Virgil van Dijk is a £75 million central defender who was signed from Southampton. This was the reality that everyone had to face and the laughter that echoed from non-Liverpool fans’ corners was, for a long time, more audible than it should have been.
But another reality to be faced is that Phil Jones just signed a four-year extension with Manchester United despite producing little more than meme gold for the previous four, and that defenders now occasionally look like little more than out-of-position midfielders.
However, following his latest exploits on Wednesday night, it’s a safe statement to say that Virgil van Dijk’s hefty price tag is probably a fair reflection of his ability – and that he’s surely the best defender in world football.
So, who could conceivably be chasing his crown?
Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
The problem for van Dijk is that, no matter what level you compete at, the ultimate aim will be to land at one of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
While Varane is easily in the conversation for best defender in the world, he’s at a club now who have to do so little defending that many won’t legitimise him as such. A better insight into Varane’s ability will come at international level and even now, his side are the best in the world there, too.
He could have been handed the gong for Player of the Tournament this summer, and although there’s little hope of him ever leaving Madrid, you would have to think his price tag would exceed even van Dijk’s.
Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Koulibaly is one of those players that your mates will tell you they know a great deal about, but have only really searched his YouTube highlights after a tabloid linked him to Man United.
In reality, he’s the epitome of everything you want in a centre half, and he can play out from the back with ease, having gone through academy systems in France, who he represented at underage level.
Of course, the irony here is that, had he stayed with France, we’d now be worth £100m and captain of Real Madrid.
His perennial links to England may never fully come to pass in a transfer, but he’s one of the best central defenders in the world.
Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
If you’re seeing a trend here, then you’d be right. These players start in academy systems in France, in Umtiti’s case – Lyon – and leave France to join clubs who are in better positions to afford them. It’s no surprise they won the World Cup and will be heavy favourites to win the next one, too.
Umtiti is everything Barcelona want in a centre half, and he has the added bonus of not being Javier Mascherano.
Umtiti might be smaller than others on this list, but he’s all power and would probably be the most expensive defender in the world if he was to ever leave the Nou Camp.
— FC BARCE?NA WORLD ™️ (@SupportLeoMessi) February 19, 2019
Milan Škriniar (Inter Milan)
Škriniar is still somewhat of an unknown commodity among the heavy hitters in Europe, but he’s part of a relatively young Inter squad who have gotten fans excited about their football for the first time in a while.
Juventus have ensured that Serie A titles aren’t worth discussing anymore, and Škriniar will probably never win one at Inter, but he’s probably the ideal replacement for Chiellini whenever he decides to hang up his boots.
Except, at 24, he’s already a step ahead of the veteran at this age.
Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that de Ligt will become the best defender we’ve seen in the last decade.
He’s 17, he became the youngest player to ever captain a Dutch professional side and he’s constantly linked with a move to Barcelona.
The counter-revolution of football in the Netherlands is in full swing, such is the cyclical nature of academy thought charts, and de Ligt is at the forefront.
At 19, he’s already just a rung below van Dijk and co – and will surpass them within a couple of years, whether he stays in Amsterdam or not.