Voting for the Ballon d’Or closes this weekend and, for me, the winner is obvious: Virgil van Dijk.
I believe that because of the massive impact he’s had on Liverpool Football Club.
There are so many facets to him: his leadership qualities have grown, and his influence on others is probably the biggest reason.
His impact on the performances of the players around him, especially the back four, is phenomenal.
When you think of the full-backs, they’ve improved tremendously and that’s partly because of the security he gives them to go forward, knowing he’s so capable when other teams counter-attack.
Joel Matip has gone under the radar with his performances. He’s been sensational, and I think that’s because of the reassurance he has when he’s playing alongside Virgil. Joe Gomes was also improving massively until the injury setback he had.
But the impact on others is fine as long as you’re playing well yourself, and Van Dijk’s performances have been sensational.
Could Liverpool have won the Champions League without him? I think the answer’s no.
Of course, when you look at Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, there are loads of big performers. But take Van Dijk out and I really don’t think Liverpool could’ve won it.
He’s so calm and disciplined. He’s very rarely on his bum. He doesn’t get sent off. He doesn’t make stupid decisions.
Then you’ve got the stats around him to back it up. Liverpool had the best defence last year in the top six leagues. Individually, he was part of more clean sheets than any other defender.
There are so many things that back this up. Obviously, you’re dealing with the best players in the world and when you look at Lionel Messi’s goalscoring record, if he did win it over Van Dijk, you would have to understand why.
But his form didn’t help Barcelona win the Champions League. Usually (nine out of the last 12 years) the winner of the Ballon d’Or comes from the winner of the Champions League. The criteria is there and I don’t see why that should change.
In terms of a defender winning it, there are some people who would say it’s easier to destroy than create and I understand that philosophy. But when you look at the impact on others and the way he gets others to perform around him, that’s a wonderful quality.
The thing about Van Dijk that’s very unique is the fact that you can’t really replace what he brings. If you take out Mane, then Salah could easily win a game for you. Firmino could win a game for you. Divock Origi scored in the final. There are other attacking options.
I’m really surprised that someone like Raheem Sterling isn’t higher up in the odds. He’s had an unbelievable period for club and country. But if you look at Manchester City, if Sterling didn’t play, would they still be able to be as successful as they are? The answer’s probably yes.
They won the title without Kevin de Bruyne, the best midfielder in the Premier League, for most of the season.
But Liverpool without Van Dijk become a team that aren’t able to compete at that level. They would still win games, of course, but would they be able to push City all the way and win the Champions League? I don’t think so.
Van Dijk's transformation of Liverpool
Here's how the Reds have performed in all competitions since Van Dijk arrived on January 22, 2018…
Win percentage: 67.4%
Goals conceded: 85
Goals conceded per game: 0.89
In the period of time that we’re looking at, I don’t think any player has had the individual impact that Van Dijk has had.
I don’t remember an English team having a player come in and make such an impact, especially on the European scene.
At international level, I know the Netherlands had some disappointment with the Nations League. But there’s no doubt that he’s had a huge influence on their resurgence.
There have been a few players in the Dutch squad who have helped with that. But if you look at it with the same principle, take Van Dijk out of the Dutch side, and you’re not as worried about playing against them.
We can look at numbers and stats, people want to see skill and creativity, I get all of that. But sometimes you’ve to look past that.
Although I use the analogy of destroying and creating, Van Dijk does create as well. He’s a wonderful footballer. This isn’t a guy who’s just heroic defensively; he’s also a wonderful passer of the ball.
Sometimes Liverpool’s best attacking play can come from him. Remember the pass he hit in Munich for Mane’s goal? That wasn’t a flash in the pan. His distribution is the best I’ve seen from a centre-half in many years.
This isn’t just about destructive, defensive play and keeping clean sheets. This is about footballing ability and his eye for a pass is as good as anyone’s in Europe.
I will always adhere to the opinion that seeing creativity and good football is more appealing than defensive play, but this guy can do both.
He deserves plaudits for that part of his game as well, not just that he makes Liverpool defensively better, but he makes them a better footballing team.
How often does he give the ball away? He just doesn’t. When he hits a long pass, how often does he mess it up? His decision making with his long passing is excellent, knowing when to go long and when to keep the ball moving. He’s just got the full package.
There’s not a team in the world that he wouldn’t get in, internationally or domestically.
And that’s why he should win the Ballon d’Or.
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