Lionel Messi is expected to win his sixth Ballon d’Or title in Paris on Monday, with the Barcelona star tipped to beat Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk to the prize.
Van Dijk’s majestic displays in Liverpool’s Champions League triumph last season saw the Dutch defender emerge as a strong contender for the prize that is seen as the most prestigious personal award in the game.
Yet Messi is the strong favourite to be crowned as the best player in the world for 2019 and he highlighted his brilliance once again as he scored a sensational goal that gave Barcelona a win against Atletico Madrid on Sunday night.
Liverpool defender Van Dijk would be unfortunate to miss out on the top prize, but he insists he is heading to Paris to enjoy an occasion that confirms he is already a winner.
“I am going to have a look at what it is about. I am going to be there for a reason and there are no losers on the evening,” stated Van Dijk.
“I am very proud to be in that bracket, to be in there for the way I performed with the team last year and also with the country.
“It is just something to be proud of because not a lot of players go there and are up for these kind of things.
“There’s going to be a winner but there are no losers. We will see what happens.”
Michael Owen is the last Liverpool player to win the Ballon d’Or title back in 2001 and he told Independent.ie that Van Dijk deserves to win the award this year.
“My name is on that trophy from 2001 and it would be great to see another Liverpool player winning the Ballon d’Or,” begins Owen, speaking at a BT Sport event.
“Defenders don’t always get the plaudits in this game, but the impact Van Dijk has made at Liverpool has been quite amazing and you look at that transfer fee of £75m they paid to get him from Southampton and it looks like a bargain now.
“Van Dijk is quick, strong, he is hard to get around him and his positioning is first class. His power and speed means opponents will not run at him because they have almost given up hope of getting past him now. They know he can just brush you off the ball and look a bit silly.
“He has that fear factor that works in his favour now because strikers don’t fancy getting the better him and I would describe him as frightening, a Rolls Royce of a defender who has barely had a bad game since he joined Liverpool.
“Van Dijk has built up an aura since he moved to Liverpool and the fact that he was part of a team that won the Champions League last season means he has to be in the race to win the Ballon d’Or for this season.
“Messi and Ronaldo’s statistics continue to astound everyone and they both had incredible years with Barcelona and Juventus, but that has become the norm for those two.
“If anyone else had years like Messi and Ronaldo, we would be saying they should win the Ballon d’Or, but Van Dijk could be the man to knock them off their perch this year. If he wins it, he will be a worthy recipient.”
Van Dijk was one of seven Liverpool players on the shortlist along with goalkeeper Alisson Becker, defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and forwards Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Manchester City had five players nominated in Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez with Tottenham duo Hugo Lloris and Son Heung-min also featuring.
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also made the list, as did former Chelsea star, now of Real Madrid, Eden Hazard. Cristiano Ronaldo – like Messi, also a five-time winner – was again nominated.
BALLON D’OR ROLL OF HONOUR
2018 – Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
2017 – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
2016 – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
2015 – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
2014 – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
2013 – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
2012 – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
2011 – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
2010 – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)