It has been 13 years since a defender last lifted FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, the highest individual honor, given (in theory) to the best player in the world. In that time, the award has been dominated by Lionel Messi and some former Manc. These two players have so dominated the conversation around The World’s Best, that it’s only natural for fatigue to set in.
It is fatigue that allowed Luka Modric to lift the award last year, and the same fatigue that is probably helping Virgil van Dijk in his candidacy for it this year.
After winning the Champions League, there’s little Van Dijk can do to help his case this year—other than perhaps a large transfer of funds to FIFA execs—and he’s remaining typically stoic about being a favorite to take the award.
“Obviously, it is a big honour to be named as one of the favourites to win such a prestigious award but what can I do? I just get on with playing,” he said in an interview with BBC.
“I have always been very critical of myself and I like the people around me to be critical too. And they are, the manager is as well, which is a good thing.
“I have improved since I joined Liverpool. Last year I am very satisfied with the fact that I played so many games on a consistent level, I am very proud of that fact.
“On a critical part I could have done more on attacking set-pieces, been more dangerous. It is not easy, I try to work on it. I feel there is still more to come. That comes from playing games.
“In my position it is all about experience as well. Playing games, staying fit, and that will hopefully bring success for the team.”
Individual awards aside, Van Dijk will undoubtedly be a crucial factor in how well Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool get on this year, as he was last. Klopp held out for the former Southampton man, eschewing other transfer targets in the process, and after back-to-back Champions League finals and 97 points in the league, it is easy to say that the gamble paid off.
Van Dijk was instrumental in helping Liverpool become the most stingy defense in the league, a feat they will no doubt be targeting once again as they hope to catch Manchester City this year.
A similar performance, both individually and collectively, will go a long way toward earning the Ballon d’Or, which will go nicely next to the PFA Player of the Year and Champions League winner’s medal.