If you happen to be a Dutchman playing as a central defender for Liverpool, chances are you are having the best year of your life. In one night, Virgil van Djik managed to win UEFA Defender of the Season and UEFA Men’s Player of the Year. He won the former award by beating two young talents in Arnold and de Ligt, while he won the latter by overcoming the two best players to have ever graced this sport.
Virgil van Djik managed to win an award that had Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the two other nominees, all while being a defender. Last year, Southampton put a £75 million price tag, a price Jürgen Klopp happily paid. Questions were raised, on why Liverpool would pay that kind of money for a defender in modern day football, where rules are crafted to favour attackers more. And it took van Djik one complete season as a Liverpool starter to silence his critics.
As far as individual awards go, Virgil van Djik had already won PFA’s Players’ Player of the Season, Liverpool Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Season and Premier League Player of the Season. He went on to become the Man of the Match at the Champions League Final. With the Netherlands, he was critical in overturning a 3-0 deficit and ending up as runner’s up of the UEFA Nations League. So the fact that he won those two awards shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Liverpool last season.
The Dutchman is possibly the most important player for this Liverpool side, more so than Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
While the two Africans contribute to Liverpool’s goals and form one of the most feared front trio in world football with Firmino, the Dutchman is a defensive general at the back, a player this Liverpool side can’t afford to lose.
Van Djik is not only a dominant defender, he is also great on ball and has unparalleled leadership. One can almost sense the relief and the calmness that the Dutchman brings to the team which till last year had a sloppy defensive unit.
The European Champions are playing some of their best football and can very well win the Premier League and retain their European title, with the central defender playing a prominent role for the Reds.
After an extraordinary season, it was quite obvious that he would be the front runner for the Defender of the Season. However, with Lionel Messi being the top scorer in Europe, and Cristiano Ronaldo winning the UEFA Nations League, many had doubts over the Dutchman’s chances of being lauded as the Best Player. His own teammate, Sadio Mane had an argument for himself to be on that same stage as van Djik.
But the Dutchman overcame every odd and became the first defender to win the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award, which is an extraordinary feat by itself. Beating Ronaldo and Messi shows just how dominant the central defender has become.
The Dutchman would like his chances now of winning the Ballon d’Or, although Gerard Pique’s comments reveals how the game is favoured for the attackers to keep racking up these awards.
In an interview while referring to van Djik, Pique said, “It’s fair enough that Van Dijk has done a great season and he should be there fighting for it. It’s not easy. This game is made for strikers. When they score they are the stars and when they don’t score, normally nothing happens. For keepers and defenders, it’s more difficult. When you do a good job it’s difficult for people to recognise you, but when you make a mistake you’re everywhere. Normally strikers will win it.”
For the past decade, the Ballon d’Or belonged to two supremely talented individuals whose rivalry have redefined this game. Their goal scoring records set new standards as they keep pushing each other to limits we never knew could be achieved. However, last year Luka Modric broke the Messi-Ronaldo domination, since Kaka, to win the Ballon d’Or.
Modric won the Champions League and had a great World Cup as he captained Croatia to the final. Recently, the Ballon d’Or award has gone to the player whose team has won the Champions League and the player has performed well for his country. van Djik has done both last season even though he fell short of winning the UEFA Nations League.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won Serie A with Juventus and won the Nations League beating Virgil van Djik’s Netherlands. However, his quarter finals exit in the Champions League might just make Messi or van Djik the front runner. For Lionel Messi, winning just the Liga and being Europe’s top scorer may not be enough after yet another failed Copa America campaign and a disastrous Champions League meltdown in Anfield.
The Dutch superstar is becoming a household name, and has made the 75 million price tag a bargain for Liverpool. On the back of a stellar 2018-19 campaign and now the Men’s Player of the Year award it looks like the defensive general might just etch his name in history. He could possibly and quite probably deny Messi and Ronaldo to “dribble past him” and become only the 4th defender to win the Ballon d’Or and quite deservedly so.