There are no nerves for Virgil van Dijk as he prepares for a second successive Champions League final appearance with Liverpool.
‘The big one,’ he calls it. The chance for redemption after defeat by Real Madrid in Kiev 12 months ago, and an immediate opportunity to shake off the frustration of falling one point short in the Premier League title race.
But the unflappable Dutchman does not feel the pressure of the opportunity.
“It’s more excitement than nerves these days,” Van Dijk told The Guardian. “Even before the Champions League final last year I was not nervous at all. I was very relaxed. I was like: ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’
“I don’t know what it is. It’s just something I’ve learned over the years and it’s something I’m very happy about. If you’re nervous you think: ‘I don’t want to make mistakes or give the ball away.’ But you limit your own qualities then.
“Over the years I’ve developed the mindset that there are many more important things in life.”
It’s fair to say it did not feel that way in the late hours of Tuesday May 7.
That night, Van Dijk and the Reds achieved what had been described as an impossible task – namely, overturning a three-goal deficit against FC Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.
‘Never give up,’ read the slogan on Mohamed Salah’s T-shirt.
That hope morphed into possibility as the minutes ticked away and the goals rained in, Divock Origi with the first, substitute Georginio Wijnaldum with the second and third, and Origi again the decisive fourth.
“I could not sleep much [after the game] – maybe two hours. It was totally crazy,” recalled Van Dijk.
“From the moment we arrived at the stadium you had the feeling it could be something special. When Divock Origi scored that early goal you could feel the belief.
“Everything was perfect that night. It wasn’t like we had luck. We totally deserved it because anyone would say a team 3-0 down against Barcelona is not going to do it. [Lionel] Messi’s going to score – and if they scored one it was almost impossible. But we did it.
“It was nuts. You can’t really describe it. Hopefully we can finish it off now and make an even bigger memory.”
Tottenham Hotspur await in the final at Madrid’s Estadio Metropolitano next Saturday.
A three-week gap between the conclusion of the Premier League season, and Liverpool’s relentless battle with Manchester City for the title, and the Champions League decider allows for considered perspective.
“It’s going to hurt if you lose – but it’s not the end of the world. The only thing we can do is to give everything and have no regrets if they’re the better team,” said Van Dijk.
“We’re not thinking about losing or how we’re going to overcome this barrier of losing the Premier League by one point, then losing the Champions League. That’s not worth thinking about. I’m thinking about playing to our best ability with all our talent and experience.
“I read that if we win the Champions League our next two [out of three] games are the Community Shield and European Super Cup. We can win three cups in three games. It’s something we strive for.
“We were close in the Premier League – but now we have a chance to win the Champions League, the big one. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”