Virgil van Dijk would be a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or, according to Portugal defender Jose Fonte.
Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk collected the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Player of the Year award in 2018-19 and concluded his club campaign by being named man of the match in the Reds’ 2-0 Champions League final win over Tottenham last weekend.
The 27-year-old will return to action for his country on Thursday in the Nations League Finals, when Netherlands and England face off in Guimaraes for the right to take on Portugal in Sunday’s final.
That would mean a reunion for two ex-Southampton colleagues at Estadio do Dragao and Fonte is not surprised at his former defensive partner’s progress.
“I had many conversations with my international team-mates, including Cedric [Soares], I remember telling him, ‘Listen, this guy I am sure he will be one of the best defenders in the world’,” the 35-year-old said after Portugal saw off Switzerland 3-1 in Porto thanks to a stunning Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick.
“I am not surprised to see him disputing the Ballon d’Or this year, I am just pleased for him and I wish he keeps going like this.”
Great couple of days back together with the national team and it’s been good to see the boys! We are all looking forward to our Nations League semi-final tomorrow against England! #DutchLions pic.twitter.com/5Oia9XEVX2
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) June 5, 2019
Fabio Cannavaro was the last defender to win world football’s most coveted individual prize in 2006 and Fonte feels the time is right for a master of his craft to be recognised once more – echoing sentiments expressed by Van Dijk’s international boss Ronald Koeman.
“He was named Premier League player of the year, winning the Champions League, why not?” he said.
“We always give it to the strikers because they score goals and everything but it is about time a defender gets one, no?”
Fonte and Van Dijk played together for 18 months for Saints, with the Dutchman taking the captaincy when his colleague left for West Ham.
“It’s not only me, everyone could see the pace he had, how strong he is – he wins every duel,” Fonte explained.
“It was just about improving his positioning, and that is what he did when he came to Southampton. He stopped coming out with the ball too much, trying to dribble too much, playing simple.”
Asked whether that meant he deserved some credit for Van Dijk’s rise, the Lille defender chuckled and replied: “Ah, listen, I have a little bit of credit, but the main thing is him, he is an amazing talent.”
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 1, 2019
Van Dijk has not been dribbled past in his previous 64 games for Liverpool – an incredible and now much-discussed statistic.
However, should Netherlands take on Portugal in Sunday’s final, Fonte feels another amazing talent might test that stubbornness.
“It is an incredible stat, isn’t it? It is not easy, but no-one is unbeatable,” he added.
“If there is someone [who can beat Van Dijk], Cristiano is one of them.”
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