MILAN: Virgil Van Dijk threatens to eclipse fellow European stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to lift FIFA’s The Best Player award on Monday, to set himself up as favourite for this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Van Dijk, Ronaldo and Messi are the three men’s finalists for The Best Player award, with the winner to be announced on Monday in a star-studded ceremony in Milan’s famous opera house La Scala.
The towering Dutch defender helped Liverpool to the Champions League trophy last season and is well-positioned having already won the UEFA player of the year award.
Since The Best award was created in 2016, the winner has gone on to also lift the coveted Ballon d’Or, which will be unveiled on December 2.
Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric won both awards last year to end Ronaldo and Messi’s ten-year domination.
In the past three years the podiums for both awards have been almost identical apart from Egyptian Mohamed Salah’s third place in The Best in 2018, a spot occupied by France’s Antoine Griezmann in the Ballon d’Or.
Based on Liverpool’s success last season it could be Van Dijk’s turn to become the first defender since Italy’s former World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
The 28-year-old proved himself among the best defenders in the world for Liverpool and the Dutch national side who reached the Nations League final.
Liverpool also missed out on the Premier League title by just one point behind Manchester City.
Both Messi and Ronaldo have won FIFA’s award in different guises five times each.
Former Real Madrid star Ronaldo’s six-year reign as the Champions League top scorer ended last season.
The 34-year-old scored six goals in Juventus’s European campaign, including an incredible treble against Atletico Madrid, before they were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Ronaldo also won the Nations League with Portugal and his first Serie A title with Juventus.
Messi was top scorer in the Champions League last season with 12 goals before Barcelona were eliminated by Liverpool in the semi-finals.
The Argentine was also the top European scorer with 36 goals and won La Liga title with Barcelona.
The 32-year-old helped Argentina to bronze at 2019 Copa America.
Messi however could pay for his three-month suspension by South American football body CONMEBOL after alleging corruption at the Copa America.
Among the women, American World Cup winners Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, are in the running along with England’s Lucy Bronze.
Rapinoe, 34, left France with a Golden Boot and Golden Ball award.
The three contenders for the men’s coaching award are Liverpool’s Champions League winning coach Jurgen Klopp, along with Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, who reached the European final, and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.
US women’s coach Jill Ellis is in the running for the women’s coaching award along with England’s Phil Neville and Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman.