Just when you think Virgil van Dijk has no more excellence to give, things keep getting better for him.
The Dutch defender’s displays in Liverpool’s Champions League success was enough for him to win the UEFA player of the year award on Thursday.
Van Dijk kept five clean sheets in 12 appearances as well as scoring two goals and contributing two assists as the Merseyside club lifted the European Cup for the sixth time.
That victory in Madrid capped a fine campaign for the former Celtic and Southampton defender, who was also named PFA Players’ Player of the Season as well as Liverpool Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Season.
Van Dijk was also integral to the Netherlands’ run to the inaugural Nations League Finals in June, where they beat England 3-1 after extra-time in the last four before losing to Portugal in the final.
A debate still remains as to whether Van Dijk deserved the award.
In actual context, it’s easy not to rate defenders highly. They might not score all the goals, make classy dribbles and have trademark celebrations but their importance to the game is criminally underrated.
However, with the Dutch defender defying all odds against the unrivalled duo of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, his win could be the catalyst that ignites a whole new era of change.
With Van Dijk becoming the first defender to scoop the award, he has firstly broken the myth that surrounds the recognition given to defenders.
Other defenders out there would probably be thinking they’ve got what it takes to do as well and people do notice them after all.
Bearing in mind that the Liverpool squad has the likes of established attackers in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Van Dijk still being the standout player is very impressive.
His win will see more defenders step up and improve their game so they stand good chances of getting more recognition as well.
What will cap up a perfect year for the 28-year-old defender is if he goes on to win the Ballon d’Or as well.
It’s been 13 years since a defender won the Ballon d’Or for the last time, Virgil van Dijk is a player who actually has a chance to get the prize this season.
The latest man who won this accolade was Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro, he won it back in 2006 after Italy won the FIFA World Cup that summer.
Before Fabio, there were two German defenders who won the prize and nobody else has done it apart from those three players.
Meaning if Van Dijk goes on to win the Ballon d’Or as well, he would be joining an illustrious list and achieving a feat only few players in his category can relate to.
Perhaps his win might be the most “expensive” considering he’ll be going against the two greatest footballers of the current era.
In a nutshell, Van Dijk has all it takes to further shatter the dominance that has been raised by both players and attackers in general whilst also bringing more relevance and recognition to the defensive roles.
Van Dijk is having the year of his life and it could take a whole lot of time before any defender comes close to matching his feats.
However, his win and the manner in which it came will be a source of hope for defenders and neutrals alike that the game could be evolving and all aspects of the pitch get equal consideration.