A look back at Virgil's first year as Liverpool captain

  • Virgil van Dijk completed his first season as Liverpool captain
  • Liverpool secured a trophy under his leadership in the League Cup
  • There were more than a few options that could have taken the armband
Liverpool FC v Atalanta: Quarter-Final First Leg - UEFA Europa League 2023/24
Liverpool FC v Atalanta: Quarter-Final First Leg - UEFA Europa League 2023/24 / Stu Forster/GettyImages

Jordan Henderson isn't the best player to ever wear Liverpool Red, but his tenure as captain was an impressive one.

After he steered the club to just about every imaginable honor from 2015-2023, his boots were big ones to fill, so Jürgen Klopp picked the biggest man available; Virgil van Dijk.

The Dutchman is a natural leader

The imposing centre-back has been quite the leader for the club over the past few years, with or without the armband, so he was viewed by many as the logical choice.

But was he the right choice, the best possible man for the job? Let's take a look back at Virgil's first year as Liverpool's captain.

A steady hand at the wheel is always a good thing, and one of Virgil's most admirable qualities is that with the exception of the period after he was the victim of a nasty Jordan Pickford tackle, he just about never misses a match.

That was certainly the case this year as he played in 48 matches, including 36 in the Premier League. Liverpool got out to a strong start under his leadership, making another push for an infamous "quad," but things started to unravel down the stretch.

It's hard to argue that Liverpool were the worse side in many of the matches they lost or drew late in the season.

Most of these outcomes were the results of mental lapses against inferior sides, worse yet, often at the back.

The Season unraveled at an awful time

It can all be tied back to one distinct moment; the FA Cup loss against Manchester United. After blowing a pair of late leads and being knocked out of the competition, Liverpool were never the same the rest of the way.

Why could that be? There were hardly more grievous injuries- if anything, the squad got healthier from that point on.

The competition didn't get stiffer, and the roster didn't lose its talent. There are only two culprits to point at; fatigue, an unfortunate hallmark of these multi-trophy chases, and mentality.

Virgil van Dijk
Manchester United v Liverpool - Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final / Michael Regan/GettyImages

It never seemed that Liverpool regained their confidence, as the poor results began to pile up, something that can certainly be attributed to club leadership.

It's not clear that the losing streak would have magically been halted under Henderson, Gerrard, or any other Liverpool captain, but it's fair to say that Virgil failed to rally the team in its darkest moment, instead letting the light become more and more of a distant memory.

We've seen some great examples of Virgil sticking up for his teammates, a quality of any great leader.

One of the most memorable moments came in the World Cup, when he was representing the Netherlands, who were the victims of some really nasty cheap shots from Argentina.

However, he's done those kinds of things for years under Henderson, and could've continued to do so without the armband.

This was likely a missed opportunity to tap someone else to rise to the occasion. Virgil already had a clearly-defined Liverpool leadership role, and could've continued in it as the stoic, often understated leader.

For all of his positive qualities, the Dutchman isn't exactly a motivational lightning rod the way we've seen from other Liverpool captains. He's also a club legend, but not a lifelong Red, which creates a bond with the club that is hard to replicate.

There were other options for the armband

Yes, this is leading somewhere- Trent Alexander-Arnold should have been named Liverpool's captain instead of vice-captain.

To state the incredibly obvious, he is Scouse, as have been many of the club's most passionate leaders.

He's the heart and soul of the club, and going forward for approximately the next decade, should be its best player. Simply put, you cannot miss an opportunity to put the armband onto a homegrown star aged 24 years (at the time), who is already a club legend.

We should also look back to the later days of Henderson's tenure; he was well below-standard, but his captaincy made it hard to let him go.

Virgil is nowhere near the levels of late-stage Henderson- he's still approximately a top-five defender in the world- but age takes its toll, and at the age of 32, he'll present the same moral conundrum before all that long.

Virgil van Dijk is a club legend, and certainly earned the role of captain, but deservingness is less important than utilitarianism.

Of course, he likely would have been in charge down the stretch anyhow- Trent missed a stretch with injury, including the FA Cup game- but some of the mental and morale shortcomings of this season are at least evidence that he might not be the perfect man for the job.

With all of that being said, a Dutch captain under a brand new Dutch coach might be the perfect pairing, so all of the optimism in the world is warranted for year two- especially if his vice-captain is healthy and by his side for more of the season.