Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has admitted he fears he won’t be able to regain his former dominant self after suffering the most serious injury of his career.
The towering Dutch international has the opportunity to get his hands on the silverware later today when the Reds take on Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
And the excitement of the occasion is a million miles from the agony he suffered last season, when he ruptured his right anterior cruciate ligament against Everton, which not only ruled him out for the rest of the countryside, but forced him to learn to walk again. before he could think of returning to the Liverpool first team.
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Van Dijk has made 32 appearances for the Reds this season, scoring three goals, but feels he has rejuvenated since the Premier League’s winter break.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily Mail, Van Dijk said: “It was always going to take time from pre-season until now.
“I feel very good. I think the winter holidays have really helped me, to get away from it all with my family, to have time to really disconnect, to not think about football and the pressure we are under. all.
“I sometimes felt a bit taken for granted, like people were acting like nothing had happened and everything was normal.
“I had to really disconnect and clear my head and make sure I tell myself that everything that’s going on right now is pretty good and be proud of it.
“It’s not really normal, after my injury, to already be able to play so many games and the level that I had already reached, in my opinion.
“So there were a lot of things going through my mind before the break. I needed to spend time with my family, switch off, clear my head and recharge my batteries to be ready to go. I went away for a great beach vacation away with my family and kids and it was really needed.
“The games before the break, I felt I had some good games, but keeping that level constant and also the level that everyone expected of me was always like a pressure. It was something that played into my mind a bit. head, not much but still…
“Even though I had a good game, I felt like no one was enjoying him as much as they should.
“It’s not that I’m insecure and need confirmation all the time, not at all, but I felt like coming back from an ACL/MCL injury. and to play the number of games I’ve played so far, playing three games a week, that’s good enough and shouldn’t be overlooked and it’s been overlooked in my opinion.
Despite missing seven months last season, Van Dijk has played more minutes for Liverpool this season than any other player.
But he admits that with pundits jumping all over any mistakes he made on his return to first-team action – including a failure against Atletico Madrid which allowed Antoine Griezmann to score against the Reds in the Champions League – doubts would creep into his mind as to whether he could return to the levels that had made Van Dijk the most feared centre-back in Europe.
He said: “I saw some of the comments about Griezmann’s goal and I know I could have done better. In any game there are times when you could have done better.
“The injury wasn’t the problem. I’m my toughest critic and I’ll always know when I’m doing it right and when I’m not doing it right.
“There are doubts in your head whether you will come back the same. It’s normal. You think too much about everything. You are full of pain. There is nothing you can do.”
With Van Dijk returning to the training ground as the Premier League season draws to a close, fans have raised concerns he will feature in the Euros for Holland in June, jeopardizing his rehabilitation , but instead opted to stay on Merseyside and properly prepare for another season with Liverpool.
In the Daily Mail interview, he said: “From the moment I entered pre-season with the boys in Austria, I felt I had to climb the ladder again physically and mentally to get to where I wanted to be.
“The goal was to play the first game of the season despite everything. It was my goal since I canceled the Euros. It was also a difficult decision to make, but I felt it was the best decision to make to be ready for next season. .
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“I felt like I had to climb that ladder to the first game of the season and do what I had to do for that. Dr Andreas Schlumberger, the club’s head of recovery, also played an important role in that.
“It was before starting pre-season that I had my doubts. If you run alone and you feel a little stiff, you start to wonder if it’s going to go back to normal.
“I got to the point last month where I needed a break. It was clear to me and it helped me and now I’m determined to keep going, to enjoy the rest of the season, whatever the result, to go to the World Cup with any luck, enjoy it and be the player that I always wanted to be.”