He’s our center half. He’s our number 4. Where would Liverpool be without Virgil Van Dijk?
The one-time world record defender has rapidly climbed the ranks to be included in discussions as the best center back in world football and challenged the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly as the frontrunner for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
The reveal of the winner of the most prestigious individual award in football is little over a week away and Liverpool supporters will be hoping that their star player will beat out Messi to become the first defender to win in 13 years.
That tension coupled with a high-stakes Premier League campaign that sees the Reds eight points clear at the top of the table nearly three months into the season would normally serve to both pile pressure on most players while simultaneously inflating their egos.
Not so the unflappable and down-to-earth Van Dijk, who credits his manager in Jürgen Klopp with keeping him grounded amid all the chatter:
“I have a very similar connection with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool as I had earlier with Ronald Koeman at Southampton,” Van Dijk said.
“Like Koeman, Klopp knows exactly how to get the best out of me – by being critical.
“When the media are hyping me and being very positive, he will downplay the praise and all that – often with a wink.
“And when I was voted UEFA Player of the Year and had to go to the ceremony, Jurgen told all the lads that I was picking up the trophy on behalf of the entire team.
Good because, it would be criminal if the likes of Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum don’t get to claim at least a piece of that award after their matching braces in that 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in last year’s Champions League semifinal.