The last time a defender came close to a major football (soccer) award was in 2006, when Italy won the World Cup and Fabio Cannavaro was afterward, decorated with the Ballon D’or. Ever since then, it has been strikers or by extension, midfielders. But that changed in the most dramatic way.
In 2018/19 UEFA Champions League season, a dramatic display of determination, resilience and faith saw Liverpool overturned a 3 – 0 first leg loss, to win Barcelona 4 0 in Anfield, and thus, qualified for the final of uefa champions league. They proceeded to win the champions league in grand style, whipping Tottenham Hotspur, 2 – 0.
It’s a memory that will forever remain in football history, and Liverpool fans will live it daily. One character that will ever live the memory is the defender, Virgil Van Dijk. A moving monument standing like a rock in Liverpool’s defense, stopping the deadliest among the strikers. He has a record of 65 games without being dribbled past. A record that Lionel Messi wouldn’t deny.
So it was not surprising when yesterday, he was announced as the winner of the uefa best player of the year, breaking a 13 years old jinx and setting a new record. It is remarkable because it happened in an era when the football world has been under the dominion of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The prodigies whose adept has placed far above others for over 10 years now.
How He Got There
In the early days of Van Dijk’s career in Gronigen, he was being played as a right full back before he was moved to the center. He suddenly had some changes in his body that resulted in frequent injuries, especially on his knees and groin. He got better with time.
He was a promising youngster, he had what was needed at that time, but obviously needed to get better. He spent more time traveling with the team, featuring in games than he did training. A situation that was not only harming his performance at matches but also jeopardizing his career chances. The reserve team coach, Dick Lukkien took note of him and said:
“I saw a guy who was not fit to play games. He was not training during the week so we used the first six months to get him fit.”
Another person who took notice of Van Dijk was Pieter Huistra, and he corroborated the observation of Lukkien.
“At the beginning he had to be pushed to train to improve himself. He had to become stronger and fitter. But once that was in place and once he felt could make the step, I think it went smoothly and he took a lot more initiative himself.”
At this point, van Dijk had realized that what everyone was saying was the truth: he needed to work more, train more, and he needed to see it as a favor he’s doing to himself not to others. And that was the breaking point. Gratefully, he had someone to push him – Dick Lukkien, the tough master.
Lukkien told SkySports: “I obviously recognize his talent but I thought he was much too easy, much too laidback. You have to give your best every day. He was too easy. Sometimes he’d train at 50 percent or 60 percent.
“The key was getting him to do it every day in every session. In my opinion, it was a matter of maturing and getting out of him the talent that was always inside. I tried to teach him that this was the biggest thing he needed to improve.”
Van Dijk accepted the correction and it made the difference in his career. Sling shooting him to a £75 million deal at Liverpool, a record deal for a center back. And there has been more to it since then, laurels that complement the efforts.
No matter how good think you are at what you do you can always get better. And the best way to get better is to listen to those around you who are genuinely interested in you. These ones always tell you things you wouldn’t want to hear. But in those things lies the truth that will make you a better person. The truth has a very bad attitude, it’s always hurting. But behind its hurtfulness lies the relief that will spur you to the tops.
The thin line between your success and failure lies in working on those things pointed out by your observers. That takes humility, a lot of it. Virgil Van Dijk shed himself of the negative traits weighing him down, and so can everyone else. Learn to accept criticism, and be glad to have someone who sees something wrong in what you are doing. It’s the best way to self-improvement.
Then practice to get better than you did the very last time. Talent is good but it gets better with practice.