Carles Puyol says he is happy to see Virgil van Dijk rubbing shoulders with Lionel Messi and Cristano Ronaldo for the game’s major individual prizes as the Liverpool defender is highlighting the importance of central defenders.
The 28-year-old Dutchman was recently named as Uefa Men’s Player of the Year after playing a pivotal role in Liverpool becoming European champions and guiding the Netherlands to a Nation’s League final, but lost out to Barcelona forward Messi for the Fifa equivalent.
Does Van Dijk stand a chance of winning the Ballon d’Or? Five key things to know…
- Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk is among the favourites to win this year’s Ballon d’Or.
- His chief rivals will be Messi and Ronaldo, who have each won the accolade five times.
- Van Dijk was named Uefa Men’s Player of the Year before Messi claimed The Best Fifa Men’s Player accolade.
- Only three defenders have won the Ballon d’Or before: Fabio Cannavaro (2006), Matthias Sammer (1996) and Franz Beckenbauer (1972, 1976)
- Van Dijk, himself, has backed Messi to win a sixth crown which is awarded by French publication France Football.
Both are expected to compete for the prestigious Ballon d’Or, which is handed out by French publication France Football, an honour bestowed five times upon Messi and his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus.
Not since Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro won the prize in 2006 has a defender claimed the accolade; in fact since its inception in 1956 only three players in Van Dijk’s position have been named as Europe’s best: legendary German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer (1972, 1976) and compatriot Matthias Sammer (1996) being the other two.
Van Dijk suggested earlier this year it’s about time someone playing across the backline was honoured, which is a sentiment Puyol knows all too well. The Spaniard, who enjoyed an illustrious playing career at Barcelona, was often seen as the best around during his time but never had the spotlight shone on him.
Although he’s likely to back former teammate Messi, Puyol evidently feels a sense of pride that a fellow defender is in the conversation to win the individual prizes that are often decided between serial goalscorers like the aforementioned Argentine and Ronaldo, who recently scored his 700th professional goal.
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“Van Dijk is one of the best in the world. He is the complete defender, always calm, a great player. The spotlight usually goes to the strikers, so it is nice to see a defender get deserved recognition,” he told The Independent.
“It’s true that in recent years Messi for me is the best, and it’s difficult to compare to him because to me he’s the best player in history. We’ve also had Cristiano who’s a great player.
“And the two have always been there, and few players have had the opportunity to win an individual trophy. Having these two players in this era, he’s doing an excellent job and I’m very happy for him.”