Why Messi and Ronaldo are now no match for Liverpool star Van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk saw what was happening. And the Liverpool defender was having none of it.

Heung-Min Son started to accelerate through the gears, and a hole momentarily appeared in between the two Reds centre-backs.

The Estadio Metropolitano held a collective breath. Would this be the moment Tottenham Hotspur drew level in the Champions League final?


Van Dijk was merely teasing everyone, allowing the Tottenham forward to sprint into the area before simply picking up the pace, sticking out his right leg and making a perfectly-timed tackle to boot the ball out for a corner.

Danger averted. Van Dijk didn’t have to go to ground to complete the challenge, a slide tackle from the Liverpool defender something of a collector’s item since moving to Anfield.

It maintained the frankly ridiculous record of the Dutchman having not once been dribbled past this season.

More importantly, though, it helped guarantee Van Dijk his first silverware as a Reds player and clinch the club their sixth European Cup.

Having impressed hugely in the six months after arriving from Southampton last season, Van Dijk’s first full campaign at Liverpool has been almost off the scale.

The Reds defender’s consistently outstanding performance were sufficient for him to be recognised by his peers and voted the PFA Player of the Year.

They weren’t quite enough for the Footballer of the Year gong, true. But there’s a more prestigious individual prize now in the sights of the Holland international.

“Would I give the Ballon d’Or to Virgil van Dijk?” said former Brazil and AC Milan favourite Kaka. “I had some discussions talking about it with friends and with my brother and the name we chose is his.”

Kaka, who won the Ballon d’Or himself in 2007 after helping Milan beat Liverpool in the Champions League final, is one of a growing number who believe Van Dijk deserves the ultimate accolade.

Van Dijk was the first defender since John Terry in 2005 to win the PFA award.

Not since 2006 when Fabio Cannavaro won the World Cup with Italy has a defender claimed the Ballon d’Or. And the only Liverpool player to win it is Michael Owen back in 2001.

With no World Cup this year, the stage is set for club achievements to outrank those for country.

Mohamed Salah suffered in this regard last year. He was among the front-runners until his World Cup woes with Egypt – exacerbated by that Champions League final injury – saw him slip down the pecking order and allow Luka Modric, who lifted the European Cup and reached the World Cup final, to win the award.

But the field is unlikely to be unsettled in such a way this summer.

Yes, there is the Copa America and the Africa Cup of Nations. However, they lack the gravitas of the World Cup or even, in terms of the Ballon d’Or, the European Championships.

Indeed, that Van Dijk will lead out Holland in their UEFA Nations League final against Portugal on Sunday will be of benefit. Win the tournament, and he’ll have done everything he can for his country this year.

Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo will be in opposition. And last weekend’s Champions League final was the first time in which neither Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi – who Van Dijk helped eliminate in the semi-finals – have not appeared since 2013.

Does anyone regard Van Dijk as a more talented footballer then those two? No. Not even Van Dijk thinks that.

But the Ballon d’Or isn’t just about pure talent. It’s about consistency over the course of the year, about effectiveness and brilliance in a chosen position.

And six months into 2019, Van Dijk is now clearly the man to beat.

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