Jamie Carragher was right all along about Virgil van Dijk and now next Liverpool move is obvious

Virgil van Dijk was excellent for Liverpool during the 2023-24 season
-Credit: (Image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

It was a phrase Virgil van Dijk later claimed to regret, but few could have blamed him as he sat in the Wembley dressing room with his hands full with silverware in late February.

The Liverpool captain was moments removed from turning in an outstanding performance alongside a winning goal to beat Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final when he trained his eyes onto the camera directly in his face. "They thought I was finished!"

As ripostes go, clasping his player-of-the-match award alongside the League Cup trophy itself was quite the retort, even if Van Dijk said a few weeks later that he shouldn't have got caught up in the emotion at the time.

"I fully understand the noise that came with it but I am a human being and not immune to any of that, so there was a bit of emotion that day but I shouldn’t have said that," he later revealed. "Maybe in one way it was good to say because it gets it out of me, but I don’t like noise around me. I like to play the game."

End-of-season ratings:

Alisson Becker

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Ibrahima Konate

Luis Diaz

Cody Gakpo

Darwin Nunez

In his first season as club captain, Van Dijk will be able to reflect on a job well done. The Liverpool defender looked much like his 'normal self' once more, even if criticism of some of his performances in the previous campaign were both exaggerated and undermined by the lack of midfield protection in front of him at times.

The summer additions of Alexis Mac Allister and Wataru Endo in particular were key to allowing Van Dijk to return to the sort of levels that have marked him out as one of the finest centre-halves to ever compete in the Premier League era.

As club skipper, a new pre-match routine was added by Van Dijk at the start of the season with the players convening for a huddle just before kick-off to hear some final morsels of inspiration, and it was privately noted by some of the squad how different the leadership group was with the uber-cool Dutchman at the helm alongside new vice-captain Trent-Alexander Arnold.

Having been raised on a diet of demands from the combative duo of Jordan Henderson and James Milner, two famously determined and dedicated professionals, the change of captaincy to the more laid-back pair of Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold led to a more serene atmosphere day to day, it was told.

A sending-off in the 2-1 victory over Newcastle United was a rare blot on Van Dijk's copy book and the subsequent suspension frustrated the Reds skipper in his attempts to lead a new-look side through the early weeks of what was widely being coined as 'Liverpool 2.0'.

A dominant performance in the 2-0 win over Everton at Anfield in October was turned in while the skipper also held his own at the Etihad a month later as the Reds earned a creditable 1-1 draw with Manchester City. The defender's form started to see his name spoken about as a potential Player of the Year as Liverpool surged towards a title challenge that was unexpected a few months prior.

In one sequence in early 2024, Van Dijk had won 24 of the 25 duels he had contested across a six-game sequence and his inspired display in a cup final that saw Jurgen Klopp forced to start four others who weren't his 'first choice' in the back five was integral. The defender ended the season with the best aerial duel win rate (81.4%) in any of Europe's top-five leagues.

“You don’t need to analyse that," Reds legend Jamie Carragher mused after Van Dijk scored in a win over Luton Town. "Look at the colossus, look at him, look at him! A marvel of modern science. He is the best centre-back the Premier League has ever seen, by a mile."

As praise goes, it was indeed lofty, but totally in-keeping with the sort of platitudes the Netherlands skipper had earned throughout the season from 2005 Champions League winner Carragher.

Speaking after Van Dijk cajoled and a young and unfamiliar defensive line-up into subduing City in a 1-1 draw at Anfield, where the dominant hosts failed to convert their chances, Carragher once more moved to extol the virtues of the centre-back, labelling him one of the greats.

"The great centre-backs don't just play their own game, you can control the whole back four," gushed Carragher, who made 737 appearances for the Reds. "When you look at Liverpool's back four today, everybody in the stadium is thinking: 'Oh, you're up against Manchester City, it's Kevin De Bruyne, it's Erling Haaland'.

"For me, Van Dijk is right up there in terms of centre-backs. I actually think Van Dijk is a better centre-back than Haaland is a striker, that's how highly I rate Van Dijk. I think he's absolutely outstanding."

A disappointing April put paid to hopes of a glorious end to Klopp's time with the Reds but Van Dijk once more displayed plenty of evidence to suggest there are still many miles on the clock for the Dutchman.

Heading into the final 12 months of terms that were signed three years ago, the next step for the club is to tie down their skipper for the long-term future. The man himself insists he is fully on board with Arne Slot as the head coach and a new contract appears to be a no-brainer from Liverpool's perspective, even if Van Dijk has insisted nothing yet has been tabled.

Van Dijk, who will be 33 next month, has more football behind him than in front but another largely excellent campaign should ease concerns that his best days have passed. Just who thought he was finished?

End-of-season rating: 8