With Cristiano Ronaldo playing increasingly fewer games each season and Lionel Messi picking up more and more injuries, it would seem that a footballing era, one dominated by quite possibly the two best players ever, is slowly coming to an end. Though both remain in the top three best footballers in the world, Ronaldo has had a weak year by his stratospheric standards. He was outscored by the Argentinean last season and was unable to inspire Juventus to go further than the quarter-finals in the Champions League. Regardless of Ronaldo’s triumphs in the Nations League and Serie A, it seems that the upcoming Ballon d’Or has come down to Messi and a new challenger, Virgil Van Dijk.
However, the difficultly facing those who must decide the winner of the prestigious award is how to compare Messi and Van Dijk. How do you equate a goal scorer to a dominant centre-back? Both players are fundamental to the success of their respective teams, but how does one decide who is more fundamental?
Messi drew first blood on 23rd September, when for the first time in his career he was crowned as the winner of the FIFA Best Player award, which Ronaldo has claimed twice since its 2016 inception. Messi’s statistics, as they have been for ten years, were incredible. Across 50 games in all competitions, he scored 51 goals whilst assisting a further 19. In the 2018-19 campaign, the diminutive marvel led Barcelona to another La Liga win as well as the semi-final of the Champions League. Looking at those figures, one must concede that Messi is a worthy winner.
Virgil Van Dijk, in a different way to Messi, had an equally astonishing season. On Sky Sports, the always-erudite Paul Merson said it was a ‘joke’ that the centre-back wasn’t given the award. Since his arrival at Anfield, the big Dutchman has transformed a Liverpool team that looked unlikely to claim silverware into Champions League winners. Very few players in recent Premier League history have had such an impact upon a team.
Van Dijk led Liverpool to 21 clean sheets in the Premier League last season, a campaign which saw him named PFA Player of the Year. Van Dijk has become a position-defining player, in a way unseen in the Premiership since Claude Makélélé. To go alongside his Liverpool performances, he also helped the Netherlands reach the final of the Nations League. Throughout the last year Van Dijk has been a towering defender for both club and country and as a result was a strong contender for the FIFA Best Player award. He remains one for the Ballon d’Or.
The Ballon d’Or is an award given to the best footballer over the calendar year, and Messi has the more solid claim, despite finishing fifth last year. That surprisingly low placing makes one wonder: is Messi actually being punished for consistency? In the 2018/19 campaign, Messi registered 36 goals and 13 assists in the league alone, undoubtedly award-worthy numbers. He and his Portugese foe have dominated the Ballon d’Or for the last decade because of the unerring brilliance of their performances. Fifty goals each season has become the expected minimum and, as a result, to impress the voters Messi now has to exceed an unexceedable precedent. Taking nothing away from Van Dijk, Messi should win the Ballon d’Or because he has maintained his high standard over a number of years and remains, surely, the best player in the world.
Image: Too V-i via Flickr