Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has joked that he has been solely responsible for Virgil van Dijk’s impressive impact at Anfield.
The Dutchman, who joined the Reds from Southampton in 2017, was crowned PFA Player of the Year on Sunday night due to his key role in Liverpool’s title bid this term.
Van Dijk’s humble beginnings at Willem II suggested he was unlikely to ever develop into a force at elite level, but the centre-back has become one of the game’s finest defenders.
Klopp was delighted to see Van Dijk collect the prize in London and could not resist a joke about his influence on the Dutchman’s upwards career trajectory.
“I’m really proud that the second time in a row I can speak about a wonderful player who has won Player of the Season,” Klopp said.
“Virgil van Dijk – who would have thought that when he started back in Holland?
“Not everybody saw immediately what kind of heights [he could reach] in this giant body but now the whole world is aware of that. I would love to think it’s because of me – but obviously it’s not!”
Ending a 14-year trend
Meanwhile, Van Dijk – who is the first defender to win the award since John Terry in 2005 – was bursting with pride as he accepted the accolade.
“It’s the highest honour you can get as a player to get voted Player of the Year by the players you play against every week,” Van Dijk said of his achievement.
“It’s special. I’m very proud and honoured to receive it.”
Virgil van Dijk is the first defender to be named PFA Men's Player's Player of the Year since John Terry in the 2004/05 season.
Putting centre-backs back on the map. ✊ pic.twitter.com/IzI71LqOl4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 28, 2019
Liverpool face Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday night, while just two games stand between the Reds and a potential maiden Premier League title.
Manchester City currently lead the way, courtesy of a slender one-point advantage over their rivals, but the red half of Mersesyside is hopeful Klopp’s men can produce a dramatic finale to seal a first top-flight title in 29 years.