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Neil Ruddock: "Virgil van Dijk has been so good - if he played for Manchester City, they'd be champions"

(Image credit: 888sport)

Neil Ruddock says Virgil van Dijk has been the most important player in the Premier League this season - and that Manchester City would have won the title if they’d had the Dutchman in their defence.

Van Dijk has been crucial to Liverpool’s first league title in 30 years, marshalling a solid defence after previously helping them win the Champions League a year ago. That has delighted Ruddock, who spent five years as a Liverpool defender between 1993 and 1998.

In contrast, Manchester City have sometimes looked vulnerable at the back during the 2019.20 campaign, losing nine league matches following the departure of captain Vincent Kompany.

“I thought Virgil van Dijk was a good player, but I didn’t realise how good he was,” Ruddock told FourFourTwo. “He’s so calm. If Man City had Van Dijk, they would have won the league.

“In the last two or three seasons, teams have gone to City and thought ‘Let’s try to defend and get a 0-0’. But this season, I think teams have started to think ‘If we’re going to lose, we might as well lose going for it’. That’s caught Man City out because their centre halves have been coming under a bit of pressure, and they haven’t been used to it.”

Liverpool lead Manchester City by 18 points with just one game remaining, but Ruddock has warned his old club that Pep Guardiola’s side are likely to be a more dangerous proposition next season, after a strong finish to the campaign.

“Man City have hit form and have been looking unbelievable in the Premier League,” he says. “I think it’s going to be tough for Liverpool to retain it. Man City have had a kick up the backside this season, and they’ve got money to put things right. They’re like a wounded animal.

“I think it’ll be between the two of them again - when one bus comes along, two come along, so hopefully Liverpool will win it two years running. But it’s going to be a lot closer - it wouldn’t surprise me if Man City do it.”

Now 52, Ruddock was told a year ago that he needed a pacemaker fitted for his heart, but he’s remained active and has been representing England in the 888sportsday, an alternative athletics competition. The day brought together an unlikely collection of competitors - Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell, Love Island’s Anton Danyluk and former Leyton Orient defender Kevin Stephens, now known as Snapchat’s ‘Stevo the Madman’ - for a series of bizarre events.

“There was a shot put with balloon bombs, which I did very well in,” Ruddock says. “The other events needed a bit of physical hard work, and those days are gone. May I also say, I was a lot older than the other competitors, so balloon bomb shot put is a leveller.

“We had space hopper hurdles, and a blow-up swan that you had to jump on and see if you could slide the furthest. Let me tell you, it’s all about technique, and if you carry a little bit of weight, it does help.

“The last race of the day was a steeplechase in a sumo wrestler’s outfit. I’ve been building up to that race for 15 years, getting my body in the right shape. I was representing England, and the country won’t be disappointed.”

There will be more from Ruddock on his career in an upcoming issue of FourFourTwo magazine. 

Razor Ruddock was taking part in #888sportsday, an alternative athletics competition – watch the FULL video on the 888sport YouTube channel to find out who won.

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Chris Flanagan
Chris Flanagan

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.