Real leaders don’t shout and scream. They don’t lose their cool and dig out all and sundry within a five-mile radius. They don’t plot, steal, lie or expect everyone else to bend to their will and hope for the best. Sound familiar, Theresa?
No: real leaders earn respect organically, via osmosis, almost without anyone noticing it’s happening. Then one day, there’s this aura. A force that feels like it’s always been there.
The first time you meet Virgil van Dijk, you notice it straight away. As soon as he enters the media room at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground to sit down with FourFourTwo for the April cover (now on sale in all good newsagents, folks), an excitable buzz fades to near silence. Everyone, from our photographer and assistant to FFT’s art editor, wants to hear what he’s got to say.
It helps that he’s 6ft 4in tall and seemingly made of granite-infused space dust. I’m 5ft 11in (and seven years older) and he dwarfs me. I shake his hand and feel like a wide-eyed Champions League mascot staring skywards in welcoming the Dutchman to our hastily assembled studio for the day.
“I’ve been looking forward to this,” he booms. “Let’s get going.”
Van Dijk interviews like he plays. Calmly and utterly untroubled. “I like to have the ball to oversee everything in front of me,” he tells me about his smooth on-field demeanour. “Maybe it looks like I’m not concentrating, but I’m actually looking at what’s next. I’m always busy.”
Anyone who saw his ball over Bayern Munich’s defence which allowed Sadio Mané to open the scoring in Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 second leg will know exactly what he meant.
Unruffled, he sits cross-legged and takes his time to formulate answers to my questions, frequently propping up his chin with his right hand. When you talk, he looks directly at you – he has a freckle just below his left eye – so you know he’s listening. It’s no different when he says something about which he feels passionately.
“It’s leadership,” he says about what he brings to Liverpool. When the Reds needed him most in the second half against Bayern, he headed the goal (his third since he’s been on our cover) that decided the tie. “That’s who I am. In my position, you have to lead, organise and be an example. I know what I want.”
Stood in front of the FFT cameras moments later for his cover shoot – mean, moody and fierce – he looks every inch the ultimate leader. “No one messes with me,” he says, before bursting out laughing. “Well, hopefully.”
Read the full interview with Virgil van Dijk in the April 2019 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, which also features exclusive chats with Ander Herrera, Lucas Moura and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Plus, we hail some of the greatest centre-backs of all time, watch the East End team made up entirely of Brazilians, go One-on-One with Dion Dublin and head to Thessaloniki to watch a table-topping bout between PAOK and Olympiakos.
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