Virgil van Dijk has a claim of being the best centre-back in Premier League history, according to former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.
Van Dijk was named UEFA Men’s Player of the Year last month and the Liverpool defender is firmly in Ballon d’Or contention after inspiring Jurgen Klopp’s team to Champions League glory last season.
Liverpool and Van Dijk missed out to City by a point in an unrelenting Premier League title race in 2018-19 that ended with Kompany lifting the trophy for the fourth time in his career.
Now in the early stages of his tenure as player-manager at Anderlecht, Kompany is back in Manchester for his testimonial at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday – a match where the proceeds will go to his Tackle4MCR charity that aims to address the problem of homelessness in the city.
Somewhat fittingly and unfortunately, the frequently injury-ravaged 33-year-old will not be able to feature for a Manchester City All-Stars XI against his Premier League All-Stars due to a hamstring strain.
When discussing where he stood among the Premier League’s finest central defenders, Kompany said such setbacks – calf strains were a persistent feature of his 11 years in east Manchester – meant he was fighting a losing battle against some of the greats.
“I never try to put me in any of these categories because these guys have been consistently at the top of their powers,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“My journey was completely different. I’ve never been able to deal with the same tools. I’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot of comebacks.
“For me not to play this game because of an injury… surely the irony has not escaped anyone?
“That’s been my journey at City; that’s how they know me. I was always fighting my own battles. I could never compete with anybody else because I could not get the volume of games, but I was able to be substantial for my team and that’s the only thing that mattered to me.”
KOMPANY Unfortunately I won’t be playing tonight. It’s typical of me, right? I have a slight hamstring injury so couldn’t risk it – there are plenty of awesome players.
It’s about the celebration and we are doing it for an unbelievable cause.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 11, 2019
Although he was drawn to credit some of his contemporaries from earlier in the decade, Kompany cannot help but be impressed by Van Dijk’s prowess.
“I go back to players that really impressed me when I played against them, central defenders [but] I would bring it back to Virgil van Dijk,” he said.
“It’s a weird one because he hasn’t been on the scene for as long as John Terry, Rio Ferdinand – these guys were there for a long, long time – but the signs he showed in the last few years make it obvious that if he had been at the top level for longer, he would be further as well.
“Being a defender is how you make your team more solid. The Liverpool before Van Dijk and after, it is a completely different set-up. I’ll give him that [accolade] because of that.”
Aymeric Laporte looked primed to assume Kompany’s mantle of being City’s defensive lynchpin but a knee injury means the France international is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
It leaves Pep Guardiola short of senior centre-backs after deciding not to replace Kompany, but the ex-skipper believes there is no undue cause for concern.
“Losing Laporte, you lose a big player,” he added. “You need them in the bigger games so that’s where we’ll see [if it has an impact].
“But the key strength of this Manchester City team and what Pep has been able to do is that it is relying more on the system than the individuals.
“If you go back through the last two years, in which the team won five of the available six domestic trophies, they’ve had to deal with long spells of Fernandinho out, long spells of Kevin De Bruyne out, long spells of myself being out.
“Sergio Aguero as well – big players – and the team has never seemed to collapse.”