Opinion: Is Van Dijk a long-term leader for Liverpool?
Virgil van Dijk, currently Liverpool's third choice captain, has formed an impressive partnership with Joe Gomez this season (Getty Images)

Opinion: Is Van Dijk a long-term leader for Liverpool?

As Liverpool reshape their midfield and defence in order to compete with Manchester City for the Premier League title, the potential for Virgil van Dijk to become Liverpool captain one day grows.

Ben Lockett

Following Steven Gerrard was never going to be a simple task, but Jordan Henderson has become a fine Liverpool captain.

Having now held the armband for three years, Henderson has grown in stature and confidence, becoming one of the true role models at Liverpool and an example for all to follow.

His vice-captain, James Milner, is a very similar player – the ultimate embodiment of hard work, professionalism and character. But is all that enough?

When the top clubs are enjoying a fruitful period of success, usually the captain is one of their best players both on and off the pitch, who can lead by example and impose themselves in all areas.

And the captain almost always plays.

Henderson and Milner under threat?

Henderson and Milner are fantastic players who have become regulars in Liverpool’s first-team, however, that status may soon be drawing to an end.

Football is now a squad game, with rotation vital for success during a long, exhausting and extremely physical club campaign. Yet the summer signings of Naby Keïta and Fabinho from RB Leipzig and Monaco respectively, plus the failed pursuit of Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, illustrated Jürgen Klopp’s desire to create a first-choice midfield that could compete with the very best and drag Liverpool back into the winners’ circle.

Keïta and Fabinho have not settled down in the team yet, allowing Milner, Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum to retain their places and showcase impressive form.

But the tireless trio have their limits.

As previously outlined, Liverpool’s midfield still suffers from the same issues that plagued the team whenever Philippe Coutinho or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were missing – creativity.

In the long-term, Henderson and Milner may have to accept increasingly reduced roles at the club as Keïta and Fabinho succeed them, alongside a new creative midfielder if Klopp continues his search.

Consequently, if Henderson and Milner start to see their first-team opportunities become restricted, should Liverpool look for a new leader who will actually be on the pitch? Someone world-class, at the core of a side packed with the quality to win trophies, and who provides stability and leadership both on and off the pitch, akin to Henderson and Milner.

Van Dijk Liverpool's next captain?

Step forward Virgil van Djik.

The Dutchman’s ascension will not happen this season, but the future looks bright for van Djik to land the Liverpool captaincy at some stage.

As much as Klopp admires and respects Henderson, if the England international no longer makes Liverpool’s strongest line-up then a captaincy change will happen in the future.

Liverpool are building an impressive spine with new goalkeeper Alisson, the potential of midfield duo Keïta and Fabinho and the fabulous front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino

However, van Djik is the heart of Liverpool’s spine and their most important player.

Forget one of the front three – losing van Dijk to a long-term injury would cast a far darker cloud over Liverpool’s title aspirations this season.

Dutchman crucial to Reds' defence

Since joining from Southampton in January, the 27-year-old immediately justified his status as the world’s most expensive defender by providing the leadership and organisation an already improving Liverpool defence needed to, incredibly, become one of the strongest backlines in all of Europe.

Certainly, Liverpool’s newfound defensive strength was key in the second half of last season and reaching the Champions League final.

Now with a full pre-season, the arrival of Allison and ascension of Joe Gomez, Liverpool’s defence has rarely looked better in the Premier League era. Who would have thought that a season or two ago?

Van Djik possesses the ability to lift not only his own game, but of those around him – look at Dejan Lovren’s form in 2018 for instance – and leads both vocally and by example. He is already regarded by most as the best centre-back in the Premier League and one of the best in world football.

Nothing against Henderson, who has led Liverpool admirably post-Gerrard, but van Dijk is Liverpool’s true long-term successor to Liverpool’s greatest-ever captain.