By Noel Whelan

17th Aug, 2021 | 5:00pm

Whelan makes bold Van Dijk claim after he's handed 'huge' contract by Liverpool

Noel Whelan insists Virgil van Dijk is still one of the best defenders in the world after he agreed a new deal with Liverpool.

The former Leeds striker, speaking exclusively to Football Insider, claims the 30-year-old’s return is integral to Liverpool’s title charge.

On 13th August, it was announced Van Dijk has signed new terms that keep him at Anfield until 2025.

The Dutchman made his competitive return from injury in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Norwich.

This was his first Premier League outing since last October when he picked up a season-ending injury.

Whelan believes Van Dijk is so important to Liverpool he may as well be the club captain.

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“Before he got injured there wasn’t a better centre back in the world,” Whelan told Football Insider assistant editor Russell Edge.

“Since he’s been out, we’ve seen how much Liverpool have missed him.

“He’s a rock, a leader and he may as well be the captain. He’s massive for them.

“If you have Van Dijk in there, they become a different animal. The confidence oozes through the side.

“You saw last year that inconsistent Liverpool and how important Van Dijk is to that club.

“I’ve got no doubt, this huge contract means Liverpool still know they have one of the best defenders in the world.

“He will be integral in their push for the title.”

Van Dijk has won a Premier League and Champions League title since leaving Southampton for Liverpool in 2018.

He has so far made 131 appearances for the Reds.

In other news, Sources: Liverpool in advanced talks to seal big-money player deal – Klopp wants it done by 31 August.