Phil Babb has paid Virgil van Dijk a high compliment by comparing him favourably to Paul McGrath.
The former Liverpool and Ireland defender knows all about how imperious McGrath was in his prime and he thinks the Dutchman is cut from similar cloth.
“He is probably the closest, I think,” said Babb, speaking in Dublin ahead of tonight’s game for Sean Cox at the Aviva Stadium.
“I think Macca probably had more of a warrior spirit to him. He’d run through brick walls and play injured and all that.
"The game has changed, where you have to be a little bit more cultured, but if you looked at two fantastic archetypes, if you wanted the classiest centre-half and the warrior, you’d put both of them straight in and you’d have two of the best.”
On the current scene, Babb agrees that van Dijk looks a cut above the rest of the competition.
“He does. He’s got all the tools, the pace and the physical attributes, but he’s also got the brain and that’s the most important thing really as a defender.
"He’s got the intelligence to sniff out danger, but he does it at a canter, that’s the thing, never looks flustered, never looks like he breaks sweat, and that is very, very rare in such high-pressure situations.”
Indeed, Babb even goes so far as to suggest the centre-half could end up being regarded as one of the greatest defenders the game has seen.
“Possibly, yeah, I think so, and it’s down to him how far he wants to go in his career.
"Where does he want to take it? How good does he want to be? What will his legacy be? Hopefully, it will be at Liverpool, because that’s why we bought him. He’s a joy to watch.
It’s quite interesting to see the amount of Virgil shirts now on kids’ backs, and defenders never had that. I mean, I sold tens of thousands!
"There’s a pile of ’em in a dump somewhere (cue laughter), but it’s interesting to see fans recognising how good he is.
"It’s always been the goal-scorer, but now this new generation — I’ve seen six- and eight-year-olds wearing Virgil van Dijk shirts — they’re so in awe of this great defender.”
Babb was no slouch himself in that department and will roll back the years tonight when, for the first time since Lansdowne Road was transformed into the Aviva Stadium, he takes to the pitch in the Sean Cox fundraising game to play one half for the Liverpool Legends and one for the Ireland Legends.
“If each half is 25 minutes, yeah,” the 48-year-old quipped.
Babb said that the presence of Sean himself in the stadium this evening “is going to be very emotional for us and his family. There’s a very human side to this story and I think Liverpool is more than a club, more than a city, it’s a family.
"In times of tragedy, Liverpool have excelled in their duty of care to family and supporters, but I think that football as a whole brings people together.
"It’s the global sport that allows people to put their differences aside and rally together when they need to and this is one of those causes, because what happened to Sean was so tragic.
“My partner was 100 yards down the road when it happened and it could have been her, it could have been someone’s son.
"It was such an unprovoked attack. So, yeah, we do anything that we can to help him, because the road to rehabilitation is going to be a long one, but the more people who turn up and give their support, the more help the game will be to the cause.”
Mick McCarthy, home team manager, has also urged fans to come out in support.
“I met with Sean’s wife Martina and their son Jack recently and I was really touched by their story and by Martina’s desire to do everything she can for Sean and for her family,” he said.
Nobody should go to a football match like Sean did that night at Anfield and suffer these horrendous injuries.
"It is just not right and I am happy that we are all doing our bit to help out at the Aviva Stadium.”
Almost 25,000 tickets have been sold for the game to date, with tickets still available via ticketmaster.ie until half an hour before kick-off at 7.45pm.
McCarthy will take charge of an Ireland squad that includes his coach Robbie Keane, along with other Irish and Anfield favourites, such as Ronnie Whelan, John Aldridge, Jason McAteer, Ray Houghton, and Phil Babb. Kop hero Dalglish will lead a Liverpool squad that includes Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Sami Hypia, and Ian Rush, though the last of that quartet revealed yesterday that, following recent knee surgery, he will most probably require a late fitness test.
All proceeds will go to aid Sean’s recovery from the life-changing injuries he sustained when he was attacked outside Anfield ahead of the Liverpool-Roma Champions League semi-final last April.