Such has been the dominance enjoyed by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon D’Or over the past decade, the notion that any player other than the two could win it is often scoffed at. Virgil van Dijk, however, is not receiving such treatment.
Fresh from Champions League glory, the Dutchman finds himself at the front of an altogether different competition. Van Dijk is currently the bookmakers favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. He’s ahead of the aforementioned Messi and Ronaldo, as well as Kylian Mbappe, Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling.
In fact, he’s the only defender on the list with odds shorter than 100/1, with Marcelo and Diego Godin the next on the list.To emphasise how unlikely they are to win it, Alexis Sanchez is ahead of both in the likely winners. Bookmakers odds may not be an indication of anything in reality, but the fact Van Dijk finds himself at the top is astonishing in itself. There is no smoke without fire, afterall. Clearly, there is a firm belief that Liverpool’s star man could become only the second player since 2007 to keep it out of Ronaldo or Messi’s hands.
So is there a case for Van Dijk to win it? Does he have a compelling argument given Messi finished the club season with 51 goals and 19 assists in 50 games? There is plenty of evidence to suggest so. While Messi dominated the attacking stats, Van Dijk was the leader defensively. No defensive player matched or came near the level he hit this season.
Van Dijk was not only the best defender in the Premier League, but it’s star in general. The fact he won both the Player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year is a testament to that. His performances were vital in pushing Liverpool to the best second-place finish in English football history and a sixth Champions League success. It is no overstatement to claim that no player influenced a side as much as Van Dijk did this season.
He was the central player in a Liverpool team that not only conceded the least goals in the Premier League, and 16 fewer than last season to boot, but the best in Europe’s top five leave. Van Dijk also finished the campaign without a single opposition player dribbling past him and has now gone 64 Liverpool games without that happening. Add in that this season he won an astonishing 38 tackles, no player in the Premier League managed to win more than five without an opposition player dribbling past them, and it further emphasises how good he was.
The effect on his teammates adds more evidence to the case. Alisson Becker, despite being a world-class goalkeeper in his own right, would not have won the Premier League Golden Glove were it not for Van Dijk marshalling the defence in front of him. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson would not have played in their bold, gung-ho style and racked up 23 assists between them if they could not do so in the knowledge Van Dijk was defending the fort behind them. Even Joel Matip has looked like a top-level defender playing alongside the Dutchman.
Van Dijk was almost omnipotent this season. At times it felt like he was everywhere on the pitch, clearing up messes, ending opposition attacks and starting Liverpool’s attacks all at the same time. He transformed into the best defender in the world and performed as such every week. And those powers also transformed those around him. He dragged this Liverpool side forward, to Champions League glory and the brink of a first Premier League title in decades. He also set a new standard for his teammates and defenders the world over.
Van Dijk dragged defending forward, and now the rest of the world are struggling to keep up with him. This season was a phenomenal one on multiple levels and his plethora of awards, plus a Champions League trophy, is a testament to that. The Dutchman ticked all the boxes for winning the competition. He was brilliant on the pitch, performing at a level even the world’s best defenders have failed to reach. He was excellent this year in particular and guided his team to Champions League glory and through an unprecedented Premier League campaign. There was literally no area he fell short in.
Messi may have had another unbelievable season and deserves recognition for as much. Indeed, Van Dijk has said he believes the Argentine is worthy of his sixth Ballon D’Or success. That, though, is just the response of a humble player. If Van Dijk was looking from the outside, he’d think he was as worthy of winning the Ballon D’Or as the rest of us do.
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