- Virgil Van Dijk is in the running for The Best FIFA Men’s Player
- Up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
- Champions League winner with Liverpool, Nations League runner-up with the Netherlands
For the last few years the finalists of The Best FIFA Men’s Player award have all been strikers, with Mohamed Salah, Neymar, Antoine Griezmann and the ubiquitous Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi all figuring prominently. The last time a non-forward appeared in the three-man shortlist for the award was 2014, when Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was in the running. And to find a defender among the finalists you have to go back even further, to 2006, the year Fabio Cannavaro picked up the award.
When Liverpool’s Dutch centre-half Virgil van Dijk was named one of the three remaining contenders for the prestigious accolade this year it was something of an event in itself, though it hardly came as a surprise considering the remarkable season he had. FIFA.com picks out just three of the moments that led to the Reds and Oranje defender appearing among the finalists.
A vital goal for the Oranje
On 19 November 2018, the Netherlands took on Germany in their final match of their UEFA Nations League group. France led the three-team section by a point at kick-off and were on the verge of qualifying for the semi-finals of the competition, though the Dutch needed only a point to pip them to the last four.
Their hopes of doing that looked remote when Die Mannschaft surged to a 2-0 lead inside the opening 20 minutes and held it until the closing five. It was at that point that Quincy Promes pulled one back before Van Dijk secured the all-important point with a right-footed volley in the last minute of normal time.
It was a goal that saw the Netherlands qualify for the tournament finals at the expense of the last two FIFA World Cup™ winners. They followed that achievement up by easing past England in the semis before losing to Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo in the final.
A defensive rock in the Champions League
There were two distinct parts to Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League campaign: a challenging group phase in which the Reds finished runners-up to Paris Saint-Germain following three wins and as many defeats; and a knockout phase in which they raised their game significantly, thanks in no small part to the imperious Van Dijk.
With the exception of the first leg of the semi-final against Barcelona, when they fell to a 3-0 defeat, Liverpool founded their success on their solidity at the back. After conceding solitary goals in the last 16 against Bayern Munich and the quarter-finals against Porto, they kept Tottenham goalless in the final.
The Dutch central defender’s standout performance came in the second leg against Barça. Following that heavy first-leg loss, the Reds needed something special if they were to make their second consecutive Champions League final. While Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum led the way up front by each scoring a brace, Van Dijk was at his commanding best at the back. Winning tackle after tackle, playing pinpoint passes and reigning supreme in the air, he led by example and helped his side pull off an unlikely comeback to the delight of the Anfield crowd.
No way through!
At the Community Shield on 4 August 2019, Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus did something nobody else had managed to do for some considerable time: dribble the ball past Van Dijk, the first time the Dutch defender had allowed such a thing to happen since March 2018.
Stretching for a year and a half, his remarkable run of 65 matches without allowing anyone to take the ball past him says much about Van Dijk’s positional skills, speed and commanding presence.