Why isn't Virgil van Dijk in Netherlands' Euro 2021 squad?
Since joining Liverpool at the end of 2017, Virgil can Dijk has performed at such a level that he was close to winning the Ballon d'Or. But where is he now?
Less than a year ago, Virgil van Dijk had played a crucial role in his club Liverpool becoming English champions once again after 30 long years. The elegant Dutch defender had been one of the key parts in Jürgen Klopp's carefully assembled Red machine, one which had been crowned Kings of Europe the season before taking the Premier League title breaking records along the way.
Euro 2020 news:
Virgil van Dijk: missing for the Netherlands
And on this incredible journey, as he sat alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the final three for the Ballon d'Or award, he must have already been pondering international glory with his countrymen. The Netherlands were building a very decent side for Euro 2020.
The pandemic hit. The European Championships would be delayed until the summer of 2021. But the Dutch team were to find out much later that they would not be featuring their captain in their squad. Van Dijk was injured for the Anfield club after a horror challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in October 2020. The defending champions would be without their influential centre-half for the rest of the season (adding to an incredible injury list) following knee surgery and a long period of recovery, but the hope was - at least for the national team - that he would be fit enough for the summer.
However, in early May 2021, the 29-year old announced that he had made the decision not to play in the Euros. Instead he would continue on regaining full strength with a focus on coming back for Liverpool in perfect condition for the new season.
"I’ve just progressed nicely," he said at the time. "In this latest stage for myself, I have come to a decision that I had to make: would I be involved in the Euros, yes or no?
"With everything that is going on, I feel physically it is the right decision that I’ve decided not to go to the Euros and to go into my last phase of rehab during the off-season.
"So the full focus will be on pre-season with the club and that’s a realistic goal, so I am looking forward to that.
"Obviously I am very gutted to miss the Euros and leading out my own country there, but things have been like they have and I have to accept it – we all have to accept it.
"I think the decision to not go is the right decision in the grand scheme of things. It’s tough, but I’m at peace with it."
Wijnaldum steps into captain Van Dijk's shoes
Georginio Wijnaldum was delighted to have been appointed captain of the Netherlands for the European Championship but says the absence of Virgil van Dijk will be felt by the Dutch over the next month.
"Of course the captain's armband is a big boost for me. It gives me a feeling of pride. I have come to an age when I’m more involved with the rest of the team but at the same time I feel I can still be myself in this role,” he told reporters as the Dutch squad continued their preparations for the 11 June - 11 July tournament.
But he said it was a major blow that Van Dijk will not be at the Euros.
"He is our real captain in everything. He is big and strong and really has the appearance of a captain,” Wijnaldum said.
Wijnaldum is one of nine players in the 26-man who have previously competed in a major tournament with the Netherlands, their last appearance being the 2014 World Cup in Brazil where they finished third.
“It is unbelievable that we have not played at a World Cup or European Championship with the Netherlands for seven years. The Netherlands always seemed to automatically qualify. Missing one tournament, that can happen. But two?
"That hurt me a lot. Sometimes I watched those tournaments with gritted teeth, I could hardly bear it. I was on vacation, but that felt wrong, because during those tournaments I shouldn't be on vacation," Wijnaldum said.
The Dutch want to make up for lost time when they take on Austria, North Macedonia and Ukraine, who they meet first in Amsterdam on 13 June, in Group C.
"We are a team of friends again. We form a united front. Of course, that alone does not guarantee we will win any matches, but it is very important. After the World Cup in 2014, the atmosphere in the squad was a bit down for a while,” he added.
Will the Dutch side be able to lift the continental trophy come 11 July without their influential defender? We do not have long to wait and you can follow all the news and live games with AS English throughout the tournament.