On the 29th of February 2020, Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu met Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk in an aerial challenge. The Spaniard landed awkwardly, his boot sticking in the ground, causing a sharp twist in his knee. It was immediately obvious that the injury was severe. As Deulofeu laid on the pitch receiving treatment, Van Dijk knelt beside him. The delay to the game was lengthy, with Deulofeu requiring oxygen before being stretchered off. Liverpool’s commanding centre-back walked alongside the stretcher consoling Deulofeu.
Eight months later, on the 18th of October 2020, Deulofeu returned to competitive football making his debut for Udinese in their win over Parma. By an absolutely dreadful coincidence, on the same weekend Virgil van Dijk suffered an ACL injury of his own, after a horror challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for whom patience is now wearing thin.
ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, damage can be extremely detrimental to a players’ career. Often surgery is required to reattach the ligament, with recovery and rehabilitation lasting anywhere between 4 and 12 months depending on the severity of the tear. ACL injuries are accompanied by muscle atrophy and muscles must be built back up to regain full functionality. There is also a psychological effect to rupturing an ACL, in the form of fear of re-injury, and not trusting the reconstructed ligament.
Fortunately for Van Dijk, there are many examples of top tier players making full recoveries and returning from an ACL injury better than ever.
Alan Shearer, who has written about his injury in light of VVD’s, ruptured his ACL in his debut season at Blackburn Rovers. The following season, Shearer bagged 31 goals in 40 matches, going on to become the Premier League’s all-time top scorer.
Fellow Dutchman Ruud Van Nistelrooy was on the brink of joining Manchester United in 2000 prior to rupturing his ACL. He spent a year on the side-lines before regaining full fitness and eventually moving to United. Van Nistelrooy would go on to become a Premier League great, netting 150 times in a red shirt, before transferring to Real Madrid in 2006.
There has been widespread criticism of Jordan Pickford and the referees handling of the situation. Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s champions league game against Ajax, Jurgen Klopp said Van Dijk’s injury is “hard to accept”. Klopp’s comments followed midfielder Gini Wijnaldum accusing Everton of “taking it way too far” in Merseyside derbies.
Whilst Van Dijk is likely to make a full recovery from his injury, he is set to miss the rest of the season, throwing Liverpool’s ability to defend their title into question. Reds fans will now look to Joe Gomez, who has had a patchy start to the season, to fill the void left by Van Dijk.
A long road to recovery lies ahead for Virgil Van Dijk, but just as he was there to support Gerard Deulofeu on a cold night at Vicarage Road, he will himself have the support of the whole football community.
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