Can Van Dijk buck Ballon d’Or trend?
Gerard Pique says Virgil van Dijk would be a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or but he thinks the award will again go to a forward.
The Dutchman is the heavy odds-on favourite to claim the prize after helping Liverpool claim the Champions League title but Pique isn’t so sure and feels his Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi could well land the gong for the sixth time.
“I always said that for me, if you have to vote for the best player of them all, you have to vote for Lionel Messi,” Pique told the Express.
“For the last 10 years he has been by far the best player in the world, but it’s fair enough that Van Dijk has done a great season and he should be there fighting for it.
“It’s not easy. This game is made for strikers. When they score they are the stars and when they don’t score, normally nothing happens.
“For keepers and defenders, it’s more difficult. When you do a good job it’s difficult for people to recognise you, but when you make a mistake you’re everywhere. Normally strikers will win it.”
Van Dijk may have enjoyed an incredible campaign last time out but Pique is correct to state the Ballon d’Or favours attacking players.
Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the award in recent years with five wins each going back to 2008.
Luka Modric took the honours last year and is technically a midfielder, although he does most of his best worth in the final third, and the rest of the top three spots in last five years have all gone to attackers.
Keeper Manuel Neuer came in third in 2014 after helping Germany win the World Cup but you need to go way back to 2006 for the last defender to take the title as after captaining Italy to World Cup glory, Fabio Cannavaro finished ahead of shot-stopper Gianluigi Buffon and then Arsenal forward Thierry Henry.
German defensive midfielder or sweeper Matthias Sammer picked up the award in 1996 – 20 years after the last out-and-out defender Franz Beckenbauer won his second and final Ballon d’Or award.
The only other non-forwards to win the title are Czech midfielder Josef Masopust in 1962 and Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin the following year. That means of the 64 Ballon d’Or awards handed out so far only six have gone to players in defensive positions and just three have been awarded to centre-halves.
Van Dijk may be the odds-on favourite to win the title and few would begrudge him the honour, but history is not on the Dutchman’s side ahead of the ceremony later this year.