VIRGIL VAN DIJK IS THE MAN

Congratulations to Virgil Van Dijk on being crowned PFA Player of the Season. It’s not actually been announced yet, we’re just that confident.

Words by Danny Brown

Congratulations to Virgil Van Dijk on being crowned PFA Player of the Season. It’s not actually been announced yet, I’m just that confident.

Because the truth is, no-one else has been within a sniff of winning the award since around Christmas time. That’s how good Van Dijk has been. Sure, the skill of Sterling, trickery of Hazard and goalscoring of Aguero have all been breath-taking at times this year – but not one player has made anywhere near the impact that big Virgil has had at Anfield this season.

Signed for a whopping £80 million (a record fee for a defender) from Southampton back in January 2018, it’s fair to say big things were always expected from VVD. The towering centre-half had impressed with his solid defending, aerial prowess and calmness on the ball during his time with Celtic and the Saints, and it was hoped he’d be the antidote to the defensive fragilities that had plagued the Reds’ in previous seasons.

Within just a few games of him joining, it was clear Liverpool had got the right man. Van Dijk made his debut on 5 January in the Merseyside Derby, becoming the first player since Bill White to score a derby goal on his debut, scoring a towering header to give Liverpool a 2-1 win. And if there’s a quicker way to become a fan favourite, we’re yet to see it.

For the rest of his debut half-season, Van Dijk went about restoring solidity and calmness to the previously chaotic Liverpool backline. Forging a strong partnership Dejan Lovren at centre back, VVD provided the strong foundation at the back for Salah and Mane to fire Liverpool into the Champions League final, being named in the tournament’s Team of the Year despite only joining at the knockout stages.

It’s this season however that the Dutchman has really proved himself as one of the best in the business. With new-signing Allison playing behind him rather than the disaster-prone Loris Karius, Liverpool have looked rock solid at the back this year and this has laid the foundation for their incredible title charge.

The stats speak for themselves, Liverpool have conceded just 20 goals all season, keeping 19 clean sheets in the process and it looks like they’ll finish the season with just a single loss next to their name. Van Dijk has obviously been at the heart of this and unsurprisingly leads the defensive charts at Anfield for clearances made, aerial battles won and interceptions made.

Other than his obvious defensive credentials, Van Dijk’s calmness under pressure and ability to make impact on the attacking side of the game has made the difference in some of the key moments for Liverpool this season. With 2,663 passes to his name, Van Dijk is the second most successful passer in the league (beaten only by Chelsea’s Jorginho), and has also has 5 goals and 4 assists to his name in all competitions.

It was Van Dijk’s volley that forced an error from Jordan Pickford in Liverpool’s win at Goodison park, allowing Divock Origi to score the vital 96th minute winner. In the 3-1 away win at Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Van Dijk set up Mane’s opening goal with a beautiful 70-yard-assist and then scored from a corner to inspire the Reds to victory.

Another massive moment came in Liverpool’s 2-1 win against Spurs earlier this month – yet another last gasp victory for the Reds that wouldn’t have been possible without a vital contribution from the big man. At 1-1 Spurs went racing through with Sissoko and Son. Isolated at the back, VVD had the awareness to cut off the obvious pass to Son, at the same time forcing Sissoko onto his weaker foot, rewarded when the midfielder skied his effort harmlessly over the bar.

Put most other defenders in the Premier League in that 2-on-1 situation, against a side with attackers as quick and deadly on the break as Spurs have, and nine-times-out-of-ten you’re getting a goal and Liverpool are behind at a vital point in a crucial match in the title race. But not with Virgil Van Dijk.

All this aside, the true influence of Van Dijk can be seen in Liverpool’s remarkable improvement over the last season-and-a-half. Finishing third in the league last year with a total of 75 points, the reds already have smashed that total this season and could potentially end on a staggering 97 points. That distance for a team to climb in just 12 months is simply amazing and it’s no coincidence that Van Dijk’s arrival came in that period.

Presently, there’s three games left to play in the league and depending on the result of the Manchester Derby tonight, Liverpool could be beaten to the post by a single point, courtesy of Manchester City. In any of other season, in any other league this Liverpool side would have already have wrapped up the trophy months ago, but that’s just an indication of the brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s City side that this thrilling title race could still go right down to the wire.

Of course, Liverpool are still fighting on the Champions League stage and there’s every chance they could get to the final again where they’d be desperate to right the wrongs they suffered in Kiev a year ago, and I’d fully back them to do it.

But whatever happens, Van Dijk looks to have all the credentials to become a legend at Anfield. One thing is for certain, he’ll remain a rock at the back for this Liverpool side for years to come – and it’s a side that certainly won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Well played Virgil, you’re the man.

TOP 5 KITS: BEER SPONSORS

Because in the words of Liam Gallagher: “All I need are football kits and alcohol.”

Words by Panenka Magazine

Because in the words of Liam Gallagher: “All I need are cigarettes football kits and alcohol.”

Football and alcohol have always seemed to go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s necking warm cans on a train to Burnley at seven in the morning on an away day, drowning your sorrows down the local after your 5-a-side team’s been whacked 10-0 (again) or that feeling of regret after launching your £4.50 pint everywhere ‘cos Kieran Trippier’s just put it top bins in a World Cup semi final, football and alcohol never seem to be far apart.

It’s hardly surprising then that back in the day, alcohol sponsors on football kits were a pretty common phenomenon (before people seemed to realise it was a bad idea). So since beer and retro football shirts is pretty much all we consume at Panenka Headquarters™, we decided to take a look at some of the best alcohol-sponsored efforts out there and put together our favourites. Crack open a cold one and enjoy!

CARLSBERG – LIVERPOOL

Probably one of the first kits that comes to mind when thinking of alcohol sponsors is Liverpool’s deal with Carlsberg, which ran from 1992-2010. During this time the Danish lager manufacturers’ logo become almost as synonymous with the red of Liverpool as Steven Gerrard himself. Him lifting the Champions League in ’05 is probably still the best lager advert of all time.

Don’t get us wrong though, Carlsberg does still taste of piss – but for those Liverpool fans it will always taste like European glory. Poetry.

CELTIC – TENNENT’S LAGER

Celtic. Tennent’s Lager. Scotland’s two heavyweights when it comes to fitbaw and beer. When they collaborated in 2010 it was always going to be good. As someone who’s drunk Tennent’s Lager at 6AM in a field somewhere in Perthshire, it brings back great (if blurry) memories. Plus this lovely black-and-grey away effort, modelled by Gio Samaras, from the 12/13 season is a pure winner.

Going to confidently call this the most Scottish football shirt ever produced — until Buckfast decide to sponsor the next Partick Thistle kit.

EINTRACHT BRAUNSCHWEIG – JÄGERMESITER

The first ever example of alcohol sponsorship in football (also the the first example of shirt sponsorship in the Bundesliga) was Jägermeister’s deal with Eintracht Braunschweig back in the 1970s. The German drinks giant paid 100,000 DM (€50,000) to display their striking logo on Eintracht’s kits – as seen in this lovely picture of two players holding some antlers.

The company also wanted the team to rename themselves Eintracht Jägermeister but sadly Braunschweig refused, which is a shame because it would have sounded cool as fuck.

NEWCASTLE UNITED – NEWCASTLE BROWN ALE

Ahh, we just couldn’t do a list of alcohol shirt sponsors and not mention those gorgeous kits Newcastle wore in the 1990s. Thanks to Adidas, the Magpies had some beautiful shirts throughout the decade – not least, this spectacular purple and pink away effort from the 1996 season.

The Newcastle Brown Ale sponsor pulls the whole shirt together perfectly, plus it looks like it could be the badge of a hipster team from the French 7th division, which is an added bonus. Ho’way man.

CD LUGO – ESTRELLA GALICIA

Last but certainly not least are Club Deportivo Lugo, a second tier Spanish side who took things one step further by designing a whole kit to look like a pint of lager. That’s right. The side’s home shirt for the 13/14 season not only featured the logo of local brewery Estrella Galicia, but was complete with bubbles and a smooth head to complete the bizarre but brilliant effect.

I would have loved to see the opposition fans reaction to a 6ft pint of lager scoring past their team – and as if there was any doubt this team weren’t sober when they designed their kits, the away effort from the same year featured a giant octopus tentacle. Way to go Lugo, you mad bastards!

Check out last weeks Top 5 – MLS 2019

TOP 5 KITS: CRAZY 90s GOALKEEPER SHIRTS

The 90s was mad. New Labour. Britpop. Sex in the City. The internet. Gazza. ‘Cool Britannia’ was in full swing. And for some reason, barmy goalkeeper tops were everywhere.

Words by Panenka Magazine

The 90s was mad. New Labour. Britpop. Sex in the City. The internet. Gazza. ‘Cool Britannia’ was in full swing. And for some reason, barmy goalkeeper tops were everywhere. We sifted through the most out-there efforts from the decade and put together our favourites for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

MEXICO 1994

Any self-respecting compilation of mad 90s goalkeeper kits wouldn’t be complete without a mention for Jorge Campos, arguably the man who was responsible for the trend in the first place. The Mexican’s bizarre getup at the 1994 World Cup helped him take the crown of ‘craziest keeper’ from Rene Higuita (the latter was in prison for kidnapping at the time, but that’s another story.)

Unusually short for a goalkeeper at just 5’6″, Campos made up for his lack of stature with his eccentric style of play and barmy self-designed kits. This fruit salad-inspired 1994 effort is probably the craziest of the lot and earns it’s place in our top five.

LIVERPOOL 1995/96

From shirts decked out with orange liver-birds to ones covered in purple and grey rectangles, it’s fair to say David James wore some pretty interesting attire during his stint as No. 1 at Anfield. We can’t tell if this leopard print, triangle-y number dreamt up by Adidas for the 1995/96 season is a work of art or a pure disaster, but we like it either way.

PS – There’s a really nice purple version of it knocking around but we couldn’t find a decent picture of Dave wearing it, so enjoy this one instead.

MANCHESTER UNITED 1995/97

Not even Peter Schmeichel was immune from wearing bonkers kits in the 90s. United’s Danish shot-stopper wore everything from tessellating yellow and blue diamonds to space invader-themed triangles and even psychedelic green spirals during his trophy-laden decade at Old Trafford.

This pink and purple striped effort, complete with black sleeves and diamond accents, is one of Umbro’s classier efforts from the time, all the while still being zany enough to make it onto our list. Well played lads.

ENGLAND 1996

When people associate things with David Seaman, this kit is probably up there with horrible moustaches and that time he got lobbed by Ronaldinho. Worn for the 1996 Euros, the odd-looking rainbow number is one of the defining memories from the tournament when ‘football almost came home’.

Others include Gazza’s wonder-goal against the Scots, ‘Psycho’ Stuart Pearce fist-pumping against Spain and of course the penalty shoot-out heartbreak against the Germans where Seaman’s kit didn’t help him save a single one.

NEWCASTLE 1994/96

Nowadays, if someone suggested putting the Newcastle skyline (complete with Tyne bridge) on the front of a Premier League football kit, they’d be laughed straight out of their production meeting. But in 1994, that’s exactly what Adidas did, and in the process spawned one the Magpies’ most iconic ever shirts.

Looking at the shirt, it’s got everything. The black silhouetted skyline, the sunset-inspired colours and that perfect Newcastle Brown Ale sponsor rounding it all off in the middle. What more can we say? Top marks.

Last week: Top 5 Kits: Women’s World Cup 2019