There was much anticipation leading up to the UEFA Champions League draw. Not only for the group stage for the new season to be decided, but also for a winner to be crowned UEFA Player of the Year. Nominated for the award were the usual suspects in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who were joined by Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk.
It seemed as if in the build-up to this event that Van Dijk couldn’t get any more people in his corner. Almost everyone within the media presented arguments in defence for why the Netherlands captain should win the award. These opinions went a long way in helping the Dutchman claim the illustrious award on Thursday, the 29th of August.
The exciting evening was topped off with the centre-back becoming the first defender to ever receive the award. In his speech after receiving the award, Van Dijk was very open about all the support he had been given throughout the season.
Van Dijk said: “I need to thank my teammates; without them I would not have achieved what I have achieved.
“It’s been a long road and it’s part of my journey. I’m very proud to get this trophy. It’s credit to everyone who has helped me.”
Although he had most pundits, broadcasters and ex-players on his side; since winning the award many people have been questioning whether he is truly deserving of the title. In a discussion on BT Sport, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole had their say on the trophy. The former Manchester United defender felt that no matter what Van Dijk achieved, he is still behind the two big guys.
“There’s no doubt Virgil van Dijk is the best defender on the planet right now,” Ferdinand expressed on BT Sport.
“But listen, when a man scores 50 goals in a season like Messi did, or Cristiano winning trophies like he did and the effect he’s had in a new championship and at national level – you can’t look beyond that.
“People saying it’s a bit boring those two winning it every year, but they are putting up numbers we haven’t seen before for 12 to 15 years. You can’t look beyond that.
“I’m a centre-half and I’m delighted he’s won it but when you’ve got someone scoring 50 goals a season you can’t do that. They’re the best.
“Messi and Ronaldo have been penalised for the standards they’ve set it’s become boring for some people.”
At the same time as agreeing that Van Dijk deserves huge respect for his performances of last season, Joe Cole simply stated that a defender shouldn’t win the award…period. This does, of course, raise the question of whether Van Dijk really should have been considered for the UEFA POTY. Should this trophy be reserved for skilful goal scorers that are more entertaining?
Sir Alex Ferguson made huge headlines when his book was released. In his biography, he stated that he only ever had four world-class players. The Scotsman gave a very compelling argument as to why he left out the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Nemanja Vidić and Roy Keane.
Sir Alex Ferguson said: “The thing about my own take on players, ever since I was a little kid, I was always attracted by the attacking players, centre-forwards, wingers and creative players in the game. And that’s why in the book, I’ve stressed the importance of creative players.”
No one would argue with the great Sir Alex based on his argument. Attackers are what fans pay to see. And not only are creative forwards more entertaining but they are also experts in the hardest aspect of football- scoring goals.
Understandably many people feel like defenders should also be recognised for their talent. However, should they ever be compared to great forwards? Because of the controversy around Van Dijk’s individual achievement, many football fans are proposing that there should be a separate award that can only be given to Messi or Ronaldo.
Nevertheless, it is unlikely that such an award will be created for only two players, regardless of their quality. But the very fact that we are still talking about the award does highlight the fact that this doesn’t feel quite right. Of course, Van Dijk is brilliant. But to call him the best player in Europe feels a little disingenuous.
At this point, it is safe to say that Virgil Van Dijk couldn’t have done any more. Yet, seeing him placed ahead of Messi and Ronaldo comes across like it is slightly unearned.