Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son bore down on the Liverpool goal in the 75th minute of the 2019 Champions League final, intent on erasing the Reds precarious 1-0 lead in the dying embers of the match. The only person standing between the lethal South Korean and goalkeeper Alisson Becker was Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk. And so, as the likes of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and a host of others had tried to do over the course of the past 64 appearances the Dutch defender has made in Liverpool red, Son naturally tried to use his deadly pace to dribble around the 6’4 center half and set up a shot on goal.
For a brief moment, the Tottenham attacker looked to have become the first player in over a year to have had the beating of Van Dijk—until the “Rolls Royce” defender revved the engine, chased Son down and made a match-saving tackle to secure the clean sheet and ultimately, the Champions League trophy.
It is plays like these that won the Dutchman this year’s PFA Player of the Year award over the typical sexier attacking choices, while marshaling England and Europe’s best defense on the way to securing Liverpool’s sixth European cup.
And now, with Van Dijk looking to lead the Netherlands national team in winning the inaugural Nations League trophy when they take on Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal today in the final, the whispers have already begun that taking home the final trophy available to European players this season might put the 27-year-old in pole position for football’s highest individual honor: the Ballon d’Or.
Club and international teammate Gini Wijnaldum believes the imperious defender has made a strong case for it already, “He already had a good season,” the Liverpool midfielder said ahead of the National League final. “He is trying to stop everyone, that’s the way he’s playing,”
“For us he’s the best defender in the world. If you look at his season, he definitely deserves the Ballon d’Or but it’s not up to us to decide.
Real Madrid’s Luka Modric win last season after a campaign that saw him take home the Champions League trophy and a World Cup silver medal was the first time a player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo won the prestigious Ballon d’Or in a decade. And with both the Barcelona and Juventus stars having ended the 2018-19 season with only unremarkable league titles to their names, it would stand to reason that Van Dijk possesses the best candidacy to become the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, and only second Liverpool player after Michael Owen in 2001, to win the award.
It would be a fitting end to an impressive season for the world record player, confirming what Liverpool fans already know: that Virgil Van Dijk is the best defender in the world.