Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk has confessed he has struggled to cope physically with the amount of games he has played since his return from a serious knee injury.
After missing ten months with a nasty knee problem, Van Dijk returned in August 2021 and immediately reclaimed his position as one of Liverpool’s key players.
Since his return, only 15 players across Europe have played more minutes than the 31-year-old, who recently missed a further six weeks with a hamstring problem.
In Van Dijk’s eyes, the sheer volume of football he has played since the start of the 2021/22 season has taken its toll.
“Coming back from the knee injury, I played all the Premier League games, because everybody wants to be out there, I want to be out there,” he said.
“That’s what I’m working hard for. What caught up is that I played too many games at a time. When it’s game day I want to play. I’ll do everything possible to play, but I could have also thought before the World Cup, ‘Let’s rest a little bit in order to be ready.’
“I didn’t because I want to play and I want to be influential for this football club because I love this club and I work each and every day to be successful for this club.
“But it caught up with me unfortunately, my body. I’m not a robot and I think going into the World Cup, having the World Cup and then doing nothing for a week and coming back it was maybe not the right decision.
“I would say that everything that happened, happened for a reason, and this six weeks was a good chance for me to reflect, but also let my knee settle a little bit and get ready for the rest of the season.
“It was a tough six weeks to watch because you want to help the team and especially with a hamstring injury you have to be very patient. Patience is not in my vocabulary, it’s not in my system, but I had to.”
With the advances of modern medicine, injuries like Van Dijk’s are no longer seen as career-enders for players of a certain age, but the Dutchman was keen to highlight just how much work goes into protecting his body in the aftermath of his knee injury.
“Obviously you come back,” he began. “If you let your knee and your body settle you get more out of it.
“After every game you have to make sure you are on top of it, do the right stuff. That’s everyone who had a knee injury. We can all go back ten or 15 years ago and it was quite difficult to be playing at the highest level for players who had done this injury, which is why I am very blessed to still be playing at the highest level and trying to get that same level everyone is expecting from me and I’m expecting from myself.
“We play every three, four days, so what you have to do is sacrifice quite a bit. I would love to spend time with my family and my kids but obviously I need to get treatment every day, make sure I’m eating the right stuff, sleeping and doing the right things in order to be ready for the next game.
“That’s the life we live and we are very blessed, very privileged and I really acknowledge that and know that, but you still have to make these sacrifices.
“That’s what’s going on behind the scenes and that’s the life we live. I’m very happy and blessed but it’s happening, and for me to be six weeks out and then come back and try to find the rhythm and level that is expected from me and I expect from myself especially, it takes a little bit of time. But I’m happy in myself.”