- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has ruled himself out of this summer’s European Championship in order to focus on his rehabilitation from a long-term knee injury.
Van Dijk has not played since October, when he underwent cruciate surgery. It was always unlikely he would feature for the Dutch national team, but earlier this week the Holland coach Frank De Boerwas optimistic about his skipper’s involvement suggesting he faced "a dilemma".
Now that door has closed, van Dijk deferring to the medical view that his immediate priority is a full pre-season in the hope of starting the new campaign for his club in August.
"I have come to a decision that I had to make: would I be involved in the Euros, yes or no? 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," van Dijk revealed in an interview with Liverpoolfc.com.
"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. 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."
Van Dijk’s statement will come as a relief to manager Jurgen Klopp, who was eager for his defender not to make a premature return for his country.
Despite van Dijk’s improvement in recent weeks, the risk of participating in a major international tournament always looked too much, and the 29-year-old said he was taking the long-term view.
Van Dijk said: "Obviously I want to be back out there, I want to be helping my team-mates, helping my country in this case and I obviously want to help the club, but I think it’s the right thing to do to stay a little bit more patient and work even harder during the off-season and get ready."
Analysis: Klopp will be relieved common sense has prevailed
By Chris Bascombe
After a season trying to ease his knee pain, Virgil van Dijk must have felt his heart being tugged in opposing directions as he reached the inevitable conclusion he cannot play in this summer’s European Championship.
As recently as Monday Dutch coach Frank De Boer said he hoped van Dijk would declare himself available despite his seven-month absence after surgery. "I can imagine he is in a dilemma," said De Boer. "It is his career."
Although saddened for the player, Jurgen Klopp will be relieved common sense has prevailed as he was eager for the centre-back to park international ambitions until the 2022 World Cup and focus on 100 percent fitness for Liverpool ahead of the next pre-season.
This was an especially emotive decision for van Dijk because he is the Dutch captain. Equally, he has demonstrated he understands his responsibility to the club which has suffered so much in his absence.
Van Dijk’s interview with club media acknowledged the conflicted loyalties which De Boer hoped would work in his favour.
Following sound medical advice prioritises van Dijk's club while sacrificing a competition he worked tirelessly to qualify for. Had he gone down the sentimental track to play in the Euros, his nation would have appreciated the gesture but the risk of a major setback in his recovery was obvious.
Liverpool did not have the power to tell De Boer he should not consider van Dijk for selection, and had too much respect for their player to order him to rule himself out. But given his last club game was the Merseyside derby on October 17, only the most blinkered Dutch fan would have considered it wise for van Dijk to make his long-awaited comeback in an orange shirt.
"I am very gutted to miss the Euros, to miss the European Championship and leading out my own country there," said van Dijk. "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.”
Klopp will be grateful van Dijk has brought clarity to a subject, thus eradicating any possibility of a looming club-versus-country row.
Whenever Klopp was asked about the timing of van Dijk’s comeback over the last few months, the tone was diplomatic, deferential to his defender’s international ambitions but unambiguous about whether he should be involved in the European championships. Enthusiastic questions about van Dijk’s fitness - usually prompted by the publishing of photographs showing the 29-year-old in light training - were met with caution by his manager.
Klopp’s most recent comments were on April 30. He pointed out the difference between a player gingerly jogging on a training pitch or playing in a high tempo senior game.
Initially, De Boer sounded similarly resigned to van Dijk’s absence until next season. "We don’t want to put pressure on Virgil, De Boer said on March 23. Anything he can contribute to Liverpool and possibly us would be a bonus. I’m not counting on it right now."
We have known for a while van Dijk will not play for Liverpool in this campaign, so it was strange De Boer’s downbeat assessment was replaced with this week’s misplaced optimism.
Ultimately, van Dijk heeded the general rule that when you have not played competitive football for so long, it’s dangerous to pencil in your return for emotional rather than practical reasons. Long-term interests have overridden short-term ambitions.