The £75m bargain - How 'leader' Van Dijk has changed Liverpool's mentality

Virgil Van Dijk Liverpool
Former Reds star Daniel Agger believes the Dutchman has raised standards at Anfield since his record-breaking transfer from Southampton last year

It’s a big few weeks for Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s sporting director.

The team he has helped build for Jurgen Klopp is fighting for glory at home and abroad, plans for the summer’s recruitment drive are being put in place, and there’s a huge personal goal on the horizon, too.

At the end of April, he’s running the London Marathon.

Edwards usually takes part in a charity cycle ride from London to Amsterdam, but this year the stakes have been raised. He will, along with three other members of Liverpool’s backroom staff, be raising funds for Prostate Cancer UK.

A quick glance at the JustGiving page which has been set up shows Jordan Henderson, the Reds captain, and Ian Ayre, the former chief executive, among those to have donated so far.

Interesting, too, is Edwards’ sign-off.

“LFC fans,” it reads. “Any recommendations are welcome. We’ve got our notepads and laptops at the ready…”

The replies, predictably, pick up on this. “I’d look at Ibrahima Konate, Houssem Aouar and Luka Jovic,” reads one. “I’ll make it £1m if you sign Jovic, Werner, Havertz and Varane,” says another. Jadon Sancho and, of course, Marco Reus are also suggested.

Edwards’ stock is high with Liverpool supporters right now, and no wonder. As the man responsible for the club’s transfer activity, he can point to some huge success stories over the past few years.

From Roberto Firmino to Andy Robertson, Mo Salah to Gini Wijnaldum, the hit-rate has been impressive.

Surely, though, no signing has had as big an impact as Edwards’ biggest?

It feels strange saying it now, but there were plenty who doubted the wisdom of Liverpool spending so much money on Virgil van Dijk. Fifteen months on, the £75 million paid to Southampton looks a bargain, the Dutchman the driving force behind the Reds’ Premier League and Champions League charges.

He's the key part of a defence which has conceded just 18 goals in 31 league games this season, making him a strong favourite to be named PFA Player of the Year.

He is the captain of his country and the leader of his club. The best in the world? He just might be.

Daniel Agger certainly knows a good centre-back when he sees one. The Dane spent more than eight years at Anfield, making 232 appearances across that time and he believes Van Dijk’s arrival on Merseyside could not have come at a better time.

Virgil Van Dijk Agger Liverpool PS

“His impact has been huge,” Agger tells Goal. “And I think the reason he has had such a huge impact is because he’s the type of defender Liverpool have been missing for many years. He’s filled that space.

“Liverpool have been looking for him for so long. A leader, a good defender and a good footballer as well. He’s the full package, he has everything, and he has changed a lot.”

Agger believes the presence of someone like Van Dijk, a dominant, authoritative figure, has been key in Liverpool’s progression from top-four contenders to title challengers this season.

“You can see that all the players around him trust him,” he says. “They listen to him, they believe in him, and that has a huge effect when you add it to his individual qualities. That’s what you get with good leaders.

“The team I came into at Liverpool had a lot of those type of characters. We certainly didn’t lack leaders at that time. In fact, maybe we had too many!

“It’s good because it creates a competitive environment, which you need and which you want at a club like Liverpool. Every day in training, standards have to be high and nobody gives an inch.

“I’ve seen other Liverpool teams where they were definitely lacking that, but if you talk about Virgil, he’s definitely changed that mentality.”

Agger was part of the last Liverpool side to win a major trophy, the 2012 League Cup, but hopes Jurgen Klopp’s team can end that particular drought in the coming weeks.

“I have to be honest, a couple of weeks ago I was more confident, surer we would make it this year,” he says.

“But I’ve been watching a few of City’s games of late, and they look really strong. It’s still 50/50 though, for me. I think it’s too close to call.”

Now retired from playing due to injury, Agger spends the bulk of his time in Spain, where he runs a number of businesses as well as a charitable foundation.

Daniel Agger Liverpool PS

He keeps a close eye on his former club still, and retains good relationships too. Prior to last year’s Champions League final, he entertained the Reds’ entire first-team squad for dinner at his home in Marbella.

“I was able to get to know Jurgen a bit as well,” he says. “If I could choose a manager who I would want to play for, it would be his type, definitely.

“I played one game under him over in Australia [in 2017], and even though it was only a show game, you could see what he brings to the table as a manager.

"He has so much passion, and you understand him when he talks. You feel what he’s talking about straight away.

“He can be direct and even aggressive sometimes, but I like that as well. I prefer that, because you know where you stand, and if his players do what he asks then he will support them no matter what.

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“He’s changed a lot, and the team has evolved. He has had the backing and support of the owners to get the players he wants, but he’s the most important person at the club. He’s the one who makes everything click.”

And so, as we enter the final weeks of a thrilling campaign, the big question now is whether Klopp and Liverpool can get themselves over the line.

If they do, you can be sure that their big No.4 will have a big role to play.