The 2019 Ballon d’Or was the closest race between the the top two contenders. Lionel Messi and Virgil Van Dijk. Just 0.3% split the two in terms of points for football’s most coveted individual accolade. The former took home his 6th trophy, an incredible achievement for the greatest of all time. However, this time, did the Dutch international deserve it?
We wrote an article for why the Argentine deserved to take home the award for 2018/19 HERE. But there is an argument being made for the world’s best defender. A compelling one too. We’ll run through why he could have beaten Messi to the trophy:
Virgil Van Dijk – Best in his position
So where do we start? Van Dijk is a defender for goodness sake! To even make it to the top 2 is a remarkable achievement for a position that evidently won’t shine as much as the attacker. With Leo Messi, you can look at goals and assists. With the Liverpool defender, erm, tackles? Yeah doesn’t sound as good. It’s a testament to the quality of the Netherlands international he beat everyone bar the GOAT to the trophy.
Let’s have a look at the stats for Van Dijk. Individually, they’re not brilliant with 1 tackle and 1 interception per game. But if you look at how he transformed the Reds’ defence, it’s sublime. Liverpool conceded just 22 goals in the Premier League, less than champions Manchester City. They also only lost 1 game in 2018/19, crazy to think even that couldn’t get them the title they so desperately desired.
The positive spillover he brings
This is largely because of the stability, calmness and solidity Van Dijk brought to their previously calamitous back line. That stat of the 28 year old not being dribbled past the whole season was banded about all over Twitter. At the time, the obsession with it was perhaps a bit too much. But now looking back, it’s a stunning achievement across 50 games in all competitions.
The last ditch tackles, important clearances and surprisingly 6 goals in all competitions. He played a pivotal role in Liverpool’s miraculous Champions League triumph. You take a look at the 2nd leg of the semi-final versus Barcelona. Yes the first leg was a shambles, conceding 3 goals. But then to comeback just weeks later and hold Lionel Messi at bay for 90 minutes, enabling the front line to fire in 4 goals and cause Anfield to erupt, that’s an elite defender.
His presence alone allows the rest of the team to flourish, because they know they can trust him to bail them out on a counter attack. These are the sorts of things stats can’t track or show. But ask any Liverpool fan, probably any football fan, they’ll tell you the difference the former Southampton defender has made.
On top of that, he helped the Netherlands reach the Nations League final, only losing out to Portugal. Perhaps if KNVB had won that, Van Dijk may have been able to take home the Ballon d’Or and have the edge of Lionel Messi. However, it can’t be disputed he was the world’s best defender in 2018/19. No doubt about it.
Messi all time, Van Dijk this time?
As aforementioned, it’s hard to give defenders the credit they deserve like attackers. Partly because of their position means you can’t make the decision on face value statistics. But also due to it not being as glamorous as a goal scoring genius like the Argentinian international. You could argue VVD has made defending more glamorous the way he does it, in essence revolutionising his position. Something that’s incredibly hard to do.
The messiah is own his own league and the Champions League winning defender acknowledges that. But that doesn’t mean he was the obvious winner of the Ballon d’Or. Virgil Van Dijk transformed a Liverpool team from a decent Top 4 side into a title challenging and Champions League winning one. For that reason, he should’ve won the Ballon d’Or.
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