Liverpool have their cheap way to replace Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman presents an interesting question for the Reds’ future.
Virgil van Dijk is, when fit, the world’s best centre-back. There’s little doubt about that. He’s truly elite and can do everything you want out of a defender.
However, there’s a problem with him and it’s one that means Liverpool must think of a way to replace Van Dijk.
The problem with Van Dijk
Van Dijk turns 30 in July and has missed this season with a serious knee injury. That’s a pretty terrible mix.
The Dutchman will likely fade a little in his 30s anyway, of course. He’s a player who makes the most of his athleticism to sweep up and prevent forwards getting beyond him. While it’s certainly not his greatest trait, Van Dijk’s athleticism is a big part of his game.
That will naturally wane as he moves into his 30s, as it does with every player. The problem is that a knee injury might speed things up. No one yet knows how recovered he’ll be for next season. Nor do we know the long-term effects.
His knee, after all, is not the same as it was 12 months ago. And that will worry Liverpool. Van Dijk is such a huge part of the team that him not being at his best is quite scary.
And just how long will that ‘best’ last?
Liverpool must think about replacing Van Dijk, then. That doesn’t mean removing him from the team now, of course – he’s still the best around. But they can’t afford to get caught out in a year or two. You need insurance against it.
But that creates a new problem – cost.
Elite centre-backs aren’t cheap and we’re not sure Liverpool can afford to replace Van Dijk that way. Especially when there’s no obvious player as good as him.
Instead, the best way to get around this is to buy a much younger player on the cheap. Then you back the coaching staff to develop this player into a long-term replacement.
Find a kid who has the potential to be near Van Dijk’s level. Sign them before they get to that level and if you’re fortunate, you’ll end up with a centre-back worth £75m.
It also means you can afford to wait with the player. They don’t need to jump into the starting XI right away and Van Dijk remains the main man – as he should.
It appears Liverpool have their answer to the problem, then. Reports claim they’ll sign Ibrahima Konate for around £34m and he fits the bill. He’s just turned 22 (yesterday, in fact), has enough proven experience to be in the first-team squad, and appears to have all the potential in the world.
If Liverpool work well with Konate, they’ll believe he’s a £75m player-in-waiting. They could save around £40m on their Van Dijk replacement, then.
It’s a lot of pressure on Konate, of course, and things could go wrong. But Liverpool have their method spot on – this could end up being a momentous deal.