Virgil van Dijk won’t be a regular at Liverpool forever, but the Reds can now move to the next stage of a $46m transfer strategy to allay any succession fears.
In terms of contract extensions, Trent Alexander-Arnold stands out as the priority for Liverpool this summer.
The Englishman’s contract expires in 2025 and the Reds will want to commit him with as little fanfare as possible as they build Jurgen Klopp’s next big team around him.
Curiously, Virgil van Dijk’s contract also expires that summer, but there is hardly any talk of a new deal, suggesting it is much less clear-cut.
It seems extraordinary to say, given the unprecedented heights Van Dijk has achieved in his position in 2019 (or even 2021), but Liverpool may actually find themselves in a quandary here.
Van Dijk will be on the verge of turning 34 when his contract expires and he has had his worst season in a red shirt, raising concerns that the anterior cruciate ligament injury he sustained in the 2020-21 season has limited his life. For a player who was previously bulletproof, it suddenly feels like there’s a level to go back to.
The club have already secured half of their long-standing centre-back partnership by signing Ibrahima Konaté from RB Leipzig, and are hoping to sign the second this summer.
We don’t yet know who that new player will be, but we can probably speculate that Liverpool’s next defense will be built around Konaté. However, if Van Dijk’s struggles continue, then that transition could happen sooner than we expected.
Konaté certainly has the quality to be up to the task of succeeding as he has proven to be one of the best young centre-backs in world football in recent years. In fact, it won’t be long before you can eliminate the word “young” from this statement entirely.
But that’s not all it takes to be truly big – the Frenchman also needs to become a leader and grow independently of Van Dijk, the man he played with almost exclusively at Anfield. For now, it is the former Southampton player who takes on the responsibility of orchestrating the back line and becoming the most vocal presence in the Liverpool backline.
But when the apprentice becomes the master, Konaté will have to fulfill this role, which will require a period of adaptation because he is so used to playing second fiddle.
The 24-year-old knows almost every icon in his position has been a dominant leader and in a revealing overview of his goals for the coming season, he admitted he needs to develop that side of the game.
“I think this season, season three, I have to step up and show a different personality to mine on the pitch and also in life,” he told Liverpool’s official website earlier this month. Maybe this year we will see more games where Klopp gives Konate the leading role, whether in the Europa League or elsewhere.
It could be crucial for his growth and herald the next phase of the plan Liverpool mapped out in 2021 when he was signed for $46m (£36m/€42m) from RB Leipzig. Klopp and his team knew that Konate would eventually have to take on leadership responsibilities and that it would soon be time to deal with it.