Saturday, December 15, 2018

Virgil van Dijk: The best centre-back in the world, or just another over-priced player?

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Virgil van Dijk just became the most expensive centre-back in football history. Not only that, but the Dutch became the most expender DEFENDER in the world thanks to his latest transfer move. The former Groningen and Southampton player left The Saints to join Liverpool, as The Reds acquired the Dutch international for a record-breaking £75 million move.

Needless to say, that is A LOT of money. It shattered the previous record, held by Benjamin Mendy. The French left-back moved from AS Monaco to Manchester City this past summer for a staggering €58 million. But now that title belongs to van Dijk, who – at least on paper – should improve Liverpool’s defensive line drastically.

The numbers do him a favour, but…

The numbers do not lie. Per Opta stats, the 26-year-old has started 66 Premier League games since his £13m signing from Celtic in 2015, helping the Saints to victory in almost 40 per cent of them (39.40 per cent). By stark contrast, Southampton’s win-rate plummets to 26.90 per cent in the 26 games in which he was not named from the start. Their average goals conceded drops from 1.4 per game to 1.2 with Van Dijk in action. And even the attack is bolstered by his presence. The Saints averaged 1.3 goals per game with Van Dijk, compared to exactly one without.

In short – yes, he is very good. He is a talented centre-back, and should be a considerable upgrade considering the other alternatives Liverpool have for the CB role. Van Dijk is better than Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan. But does he deserve to be “the most expensive” centre-back in the world?

Sadly, no. The Dutch is just a product of the crazy market rates we are going through. Just like Neymar cost over €200M to PSG, and just like the French giants paid almost €180M to Monaco to sign Kylian Mbappe. The Premier League is no stranger to these rates, too. Just ask Manchester City, as they spent €138.5 million between three defenders (Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo) this past summer.

How much would other players cost in the open market?

And if we are talking about money and the transfer market, it’s easy to see why van Dijk is not the best CB in the world even if he is the most expensive one. Better players such as Sergio Ramos, Leonardo Bonucci, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Raphäel Varane and Thiago Silva, just to name a few, are under contract with their current clubs. Only one – Bonucci – changed teams during the summer, and AC Milan got it on a “cheap” €45M transfer fee because he was eager to leave the club. Otherwise, he would been as expensive as van Dijk, if not more.

Per Transfermarkt, Varane, Umtiti and Mats Hummels are the most expensive centre-backs right now and are valued at €40M. But using those same standards, van Dijk would be valued at “only” €30M. An easy projection would suggest the likes of Hummels or Umtiti would command a transfer fee close to €100M if they were to change clubs.

Final thoughts

But let’s get back to Van Dijk. Even though he is not going to fix Liverpool’s defensive woes on his own, there is no question van Dijk’s arrival has a clear purpose. He should solidify a defence that has already allowed 23 goals in 20 matches. He is not going to change everything in just one day. But he should form a respectable pairing alongside Lovren or Matip, although it is more likely that the Dutch and the Croatian will get the starting nods. Manager Jurgen Klopp likes to create attacking plays from the back, and both possess a passing range that is accurate enough to help on that department.

Make no mistake, van Dijk is really good. But is he worthy enough of the label of the most expensive centre-back in world’s history? That’s a bit of a stretch. We will have to wait to see if he can live up to the hype surrounding him following this record-breaking move. But even if the numbers are nice to him, it is going to be increasingly hard for him to live up to the expectations around him.


Juan Pablo Aravena

A freelance writer and sports analyst with almost five years of experience in the industry before joining SoccerNews, Juan Pablo Aravena is based in Chile and currently contributes to several publications and websites including SoccerNews, 12up, and Sports From The Basement, while also working as a fantasy beat writer for RotoWire, as a database editor for EA Sports, and as a football analyst for SmartOdds and InsideFutbol. His areas of focus are Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, LaLiga, and Ligue 1, but he has also written about MLS and South American football in the past.



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