As it has been for the last decade and a bit beyond, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are yet again the favourites to pick up the Golden Ball award and as it was last year, both should be overtaken to that honour by a worthier candidate – Virgil van Dijk.
Against the predictions of most analysts and bookmakers, Croatia’s Luka Modric shocked the iconic duo to claim the honour last year after starring in the Real Madrid side that won the UEFA Champions League and the Croatia team that got to the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk will hope for a repeat of such in the face of stiff competition from Messi and Ronaldo. And he would be just as worthy of that noble crown as the Croatian maestro, if not worthier.
It is not a regular occurrence for a defender to scoop one of the highest individual honours on earth. In the era of the 50 to 90 goals a season extraterrestrial legends, a defender picking up the UEFA Men’s Player Of The Year Award is almost impossible.
Yet again, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi scored loads of goals from Italy to Spain – wake me up when that becomes a news item – to help their clubs lift the league trophies in their respective countries.
But not since Fabio Cannavaro guided Italy to FIFA World Cup glory has any defender had such terrific impact on football on a global scale as Virgil van Dijk has in the last 18 months or so.
After moving to Anfield from Southampton for 75 million pounds, a world record transfer fee for a defender at the time, the Netherlands captain has not looked back since. He was the last missing piece in a Liverpool side that had gained as much notoriety for their shoddy defending as their gung ho attacking. Few months later, the Reds were in the Final of the UEFA Champions League.
Although, they would be stopped in their tracks by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and a third consecutive title-chasing Real Madrid, but the football world had been attracted to the colossal figure of the former Celtic man. He was even named in the competition’s Team of the Tournament, despite only being registered to join with half the season gone.
But was it just a flash in the sky, one season wonder performance? Think again!
Fast forward 12 months later and Liverpool were back in the Champions League Final – having humbled Lionel Messi’s Barcelona – to face another English side Tottenham, that had conquered the conquerors of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Juventus.
And in Virgil van Dijk‘s first full season as a Red, Liverpool were champions of Europe once again.
Although, the six-time Champions League winners were beaten to the league title by Manchester City, van Dijk picked the Premier League Player of the Year award – the first defender to be so honoured since Vincent Kompany in 2012 – ahead of the likes of Eden Hazard, Bernado Silva and Sadio Mane. His colleagues not unmindful of his influence also overlooked all of league winners Man City’s array of stars to hand Virgil van Dijk the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award, again becoming the first defender to win it since Chelsea’s John Terry 14 years ago.
Unlike some stars who never seem to know how to transfer club form to the international scene, van Dijk skippered the Netherlands to the final of the inaugural edition of the United Nations League where they were just unlucky to return home with a silver medal.
2019 has been Virgil van Dijk’s year. The whole world has witnessed it. Europe has cheered it. The Premier League has applauded. Fellow professionals have endorsed it. It’s time for UEFA to call it:
And The Best Player Award goes to…
Virgil van Dijk!