Virgil van Dijk admits frustration and pride were the overriding emotions as Liverpool came up agonisingly short in the Premier League title race.
The Reds ended their campaign with a 2-0 victory over Wolves at Anfield on Sunday, but Manchester City’s 4-1 success at Brighton ensured it was Pep Guardiola’s side who were crowned champions for the second season in a row.
It has been a relentless race. Liverpool won their last nine league games and finished on 97 points – a new record for runners-up in top-flight English football – but were outdone by City’s remarkable 14 game winning streak. The men from the Etihad Stadium, centurions last term, ended with 98 points this time around.
Still, there were few tears shed at Anfield on Sunday, as Liverpool’s supporters gave their team a reception fit for champions. Alisson was presented with the Premier League Golden Glove award, while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane shared, along with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Golden Boot with 22 goals apiece.
Van Dijk, of course, was named PFA Player of the Year last month, and afterwards the Dutchman was able to reflect on his first full season on Merseyside with the poise and maturity he shows on the field.
“Congratulations to City,” he said. “They deserved it by one point, and it was a great title race. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.
“Frustrated is the right word, I think we are all going to be a little disappointed because we are so close.
“But to get 97 points, to play football like we have played all season, we have to be very, very proud. I don’t care about another opinion, but we work so hard every day to be challenging, to be as close as possible. City were just a tiny little bit better than us, and that’s football.
“It doesn’t mean it is all over. We take a lot of things with us, we will take this on, and hopefully we can challenge next year and do even better.”
Van Dijk has been a towering presence at the heart of Liverpool’s defence, which finished the season with 21 clean sheets from 38 games – a new club record.
His performances were recognised by his peers, who voted the 27-year-old as the league’s best. The man himself, though, knows which trophy he would have preferred.
“It’s a big honour, a huge honour, but I would swap it immediately for the Premier League title,” he said.
“To get recognition for what I have done this season is always good, especially as defender, but it is all down to everyone around me. Without everyone else who has been working with me, playing with me it wouldn’t be possible.
“Even the team behind the team. Melwood, the people who work there, the people around us are so important. It’s a team effort.”
Van Dijk and his colleagues will now be given some time off before heading to Spain for a warm-weather training camp next week. That will prepare them for their Champions League final with Tottenham in Madrid on June 1. A chance to ensure this season ends with silverware.
“I will relax the mind and enjoy the beach,” said Van Dijk. “And after that we get together for a camp and be ready for the final.”
“We have to look on the positive side and remember we are still in Madrid. Hopefully we can end the season on a high. That’s what we are going to try and do.”