Esteemed and excellent, Van Dijk’s absence is a blow for Oranje, but one the country can overcome in pursuit of an awaited return to the top
BERGAMO, ITALY - OCTOBER 14: Virgil van Dijk of Netherlands reacts during the UEFA Nations League group stage match between Italy and Netherlands at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on October 14, 2020 in Bergamo, Italy. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

When Virgil Van Dijk exclusively spoke to Liverpool's club website only a month ago, he broke the news to his beloved Netherlands fans that he would not be donning the orange colours ahead of the imminent '2020' European Championships.

The news did not bode well for Oranje supporters and players alike, with the national captain's exclusion potentially detrimental in the pursuit of a second major honour for the prestigious side.

Indeed, Holland's only triumph on the national stage came in the 1988 European Championship, where they prevailed against the Soviet Union in the final and were led by an iconic team consisting of the likes of Ruud GullitMarco Van Basten and Ronald Koeman.

Van Dijk was understandably devastated when begrudgingly withdrawing himself from selection but cited the decision as a necessity with the 2019 Ballon d'Or runner-up confident of his side's chances without him.

The call stems from a reckless challenge from Jordan Pickford back in October of last year, when the Everton goalkeeper came flying out to prevent Van Dijk from striking on goal, a move that resulted in the pair becoming entangled and Van Dijk left sprawled across the ground.

Instantly, it was clear the damage was significant. Scans would later add a definitive and damning stamp on the players season, his ACL had ruptured, and an extensive rehabilitation period.

Thoughts from the man

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In a candid interview, Van Dijk spoke on the situation and detailed the thought process behind an immensely important decision to miss out on what would have been his first major international tournament; the Netherlands missed out on the previous Euros and the 2018 World Cup after failing to qualify on both occasions. 

Speaking to Liverpool's club website, he said, "With everything that is going on, I feel physically it is the right decision that I've decided not to go to the Euros and to go into my last phase of rehab during the off-season.

"So, the full focus will be on pre-season with the club, and that's a realistic goal, so I am looking forward to that."

A crushing blow indeed, both for the player and his country, but his inclusion at the finals was always in doubt, having sustained such a serious injury and having not played a minute of football since the incident.

To further explain his reasoning, as well as his feelings on missing out, he said, "Obviously I am very gutted to miss the Euros, to miss the European Championship and leading out my own country there, but things have been like they have, and I have to accept it - we all have to accept it. I think the decision to not go is the right decision in the grand scheme of things. It's tough, but I'm at peace with it.

How will this affect Oranje?

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It is a blow with the veritable force of a hammer to the aspirations of the Dutch nation, but there is still hope for the side with a strong core of players capable of leading the country to glory once again.

With Van Dijk out, central defenders Matthijs de Ligt and Stefan de Vrij are likely to form the foundation of the backline, with Nathan Ake also a worthy contender to push for a spot.

The trio, playing for Juventus, Inter Milan and Manchester City respectively, have pedigree on both the national and domestic stage and are more than capable of stepping up to fill the boots left voided by Van Dijk’s absence.

Frenkie de JongGini WijnaldumMemphis DepayDonny Van de Beek. Just a few standout names make up the rest of a team brimming with talented and dedicated players, galvanised by their chances at making a surging run to the prized trophy at the end of the tournament.

Additionally, Van Dijk can yet play his part at instilling optimism into the team and contribute as the squad looks to impress in a group consisting of Austria, North Macedonia and Ukraine.

Netherlands’ manager Frank de Boer has included Van Dijk as an unofficial member of his backroom staff with hopes that the 29-year-old will influence the side and provide meaningful tactical advice, effectively strengthening the defensive side of their game. 

An instrumental member of the Dutch team has been ruled out of their first major tournament since 2014, but this by no means dispels the countries chances of reclaiming the seat at the pinnacle of European football.