Virgil van Dijk has only been a Liverpool player for five months, but he is well-versed in the club’s storied European past having picked the brains of legends – and now he wants to place the names of his teammates alongside theirs.
And now, with Liverpool set to face Real Madrid in Saturday’s Champions League final, he wants the current crop to join the pantheon of greats who’ve hoisted the European Cup aloft for the Reds.
“The Champions League nights I’ve played so far have been very special – even the away game against Roma was incredible, with their support and our support, which was fantastic as well,” Van Dijk told Liverpoolfc.com.
“To secure the Champions League final spot there was nice, it was crazy. I’ve spoken with a lot of big, big legends of the club already and I like hearing stories of them back in the day. It’s great to be part of something special now.
“There is definitely a chance [to write our own history]. It is going to be a hard task, but we just need to believe in ourselves. We know we have the quality, we know we have the game plan to make it difficult for any opponent.
“We have to respect them in a certain way, but we’re not going to fear them. We want to win the game and we’re going to do everything that is possible. It’s going to be a very big game.”
‘No fear’ is a recurring sentiment during the dialogue with Van Dijk.
While the 26-year-old acknowledges the pedigree of the Spanish giants, their abundance of talent, as well as their nous in the climax of the competition, he feels the Reds shouldn’t approach the fixture with any apprehension.
“They’ve won three of the last four,” he states, in reference to Real’s stunning Champions League record. “They have experience, they have so much quality.
“We need to look at them, but the main thing is to look at ourselves. I’ve said it before, we’re not here for no reason – we deserve to be here.
“We need to show that as well on the pitch: be brave, do our thing, do what we normally do. It’s a one-off game, but we need to just be confident and show what we’re good at.
“Only the Roma away game we’ve lost in the Champions League, so that says a lot. The way we play, if everyone is 100 per cent and the tactics are spot-on, then we can make it difficult for any team.
“They are experienced in these kind of games, they have played these type of games in the last few years. For us, it’s a little bit new, but that doesn’t matter really. We just need to play our game and be ready for anything that’s possible. I think we will be.”
Winning the Champions League would cap off the perfect start to life as a Liverpool player for Van Dijk, whose transition from St Mary’s to Anfield has been seamless.
The No.4’s commanding displays at the centre of the Reds’ defence have ensured he’s already a favourite with fans – and the feeling is very much reciprocated.
“Sometimes I forget I’ve only been here for five months,” he concedes with a smile. “I think that’s credit to everyone around me – the staff, the players obviously, the people at the club who help me every day. It also helps a lot that my family is settled here, too.
“We have a great, great bunch of guys in the team and I think the team spirit is very good, which is very important for players to settle in. It only can grow.
“I’ve not really been surprised [by our supporters]. I’ve seen so many examples, games or pictures or anything, and our fans are everywhere. Even when I wasn’t a Liverpool player, when I travelled around the world and I would see so many Liverpool shirts and fans. Now I really know how big the fanbase is of Liverpool. I am very proud to play for them and give my all for them.
“I see the videos of them on social media – I can’t miss it really! It makes you proud. It makes you motivated to give even more than you already are trying to do. You play for the team, you play for the club and you play for the fans as well. It’s amazing to have such support behind you.”
Liverpool returned from a four-day training camp in Marbella on Saturday evening, where they used the gap between their final game of the Premier League season and the showpiece in Kiev to, in the words of Jürgen Klopp, ‘refresh… and recharge the batteries’.
Now, with just five days to go until they tackle Real Madrid in Ukraine, the final preparations will be undertaken in terms of physical, tactical and analytical work.
“I’m very excited, obviously,” said Van Dijk. “It’s a fantastic game and it almost doesn’t get any bigger than this game. We’re looking forward to it, we need to enjoy it and we need to be ready.
“It’s a game that not a lot of players play in during their careers. To be playing in the Champions League final with Liverpool is something special and I can’t wait for it.”
Before Van Dijk wraps up the interview to head to training, there’s just one last question.
For a man who continuously exudes coolness and calmness, has he – even if only for just one second – allowed himself to dream?
“Not really, to be fair – I am not really that kind of guy who looks too far ahead in these kind of situations,” comes the response.
“We need to prepare. We need to enjoy the moment and enjoy the game with our fans, with the quality we have in the team. We are going to give 100 per cent – even more – and hopefully we’re going to enjoy it after the game, but right now we don’t look too far ahead.
“It’s a one-off game and I’m not sure what’s going on in other players’ minds, but for me personally I just want to enjoy it – but I want to win it. I don’t want to come with the feeling that we lost it.
“We’re going to prepare like every other game and we’ll give 100 per cent. That’s the main thing.
“We’ll play our game.”