Ballon d'Or: Will it be Virgil van Dijk or Lionel Messi?
Football's golden prize - the Ballon d'Or - will be announced on Monday night. EWN Sport's Tholakele Mnganga and Michael Pedro weigh in on who they think should win. Do you agree?
JOHANNESBURG - When the Ballon d'Or is announced on Monday night, it will recognise the player that has made the greatest impact on world football over the past year. For many, the contest is between Liverpool's outstanding defender Virgil van Dijk who was unlucky to not win last year; and Barcelona's talisman Lionel Messi, who has been the driving force behind his team for years.
EWN Sport's Michael Pedro and Tholakele Mnganga weigh on who they think should walk away with the biggest individual prize in football.
Michael Pedro: Virgil van Dijk has been key to Liverpool's success in Europe and the Premier League
There is no doubt that Messi is one of, if not, the greatest players to ever set foot on the football pitch. If the Ballon d’Or was judged on who the best player in a generation is, then no doubt Messi would wipe the floor with Van Djik. The fact is though, that football’s most coveted individual award is based on who the best player from the previous season was.
Both players have already received individual awards for the past season with Van Djik being named Uefa Player of the Year while Messi scooped Fifa’s The Best. The Ballon d’Or is an award given to an individual player for their performances during the course of the season and while Messi has normalised scoring 50 plus goals a season, there is an argument to be made that the Liverpool centre back had a bigger influence.
In his first full season (2018/19) with the Reds, the Dutch defender established himself as the best centre back in the world. Between March 2018 and August 2019, he made 50 appearances for Liverpool without being dribbled past. That extraordinary statistic was one of the reasons why Liverpool had the best defence in the Premier League last season, conceding just 22 goals.
While Jurgen Klopp’s side could only manage a second-place finish in the league, they did rack up an astonishing 97 points, the highest total in English top-flight history for a second-place team. There would be silverware for the Premier League side though as they claimed a 6th Champions League title, beating Spurs 2-0 in the final and coming from 3-0 down in the first leg of the semifinal to beat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate to book their spot in the showpiece.
A large part of that success was thanks to Van Djik. Without him, Liverpool’s defence would not be the solid unit that it was in the last campaign and there is no way Liverpool would have had the season that they did.
The 28-year-old's influence could also be felt in the attacking phase of the game. He has the most goals and assists for centre backs in the Premier League with 11. No defender has won the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, but if there has been a defender worthy of winning the trophy since then, it’s difficult to argue against Liverpool’s number 4.
Tholakele Mnganga: Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and he deserves to win the Ballon d'Or
Yes, he went missing when Barcelona played the Champions League semi-final but coming into the clash with a 3-0 lead over Liverpool, how was he to know that the other teammates would fail to score the one goal needed to ensure a spot in the final?
Messi is, without doubt, the greatest player in world football. Last season may have not won him the glamour trophy that is the Champions League, but his stats and consistent performances speak for themselves.
Last season, he was the star man in La Liga, scoring 36 goals and assisting 15 in 34 appearances. Once again, he was the Spanish league’s top scorer, as he clinched the Pichichi. He finished as Europe’s leading goal scorer, netting 56 goals, including 12 in the Champions League – the most of any player.
While the big trophy alluded him once again, his performances throughout the campaign are nothing to scoff at.
He was and continues to be the talisman for a team who were consistent for 38 games in the marathon that is La Liga. Competitions like the Champions League hold much weight, but like any cup competition, the winner is decided by who is the best on that day/night while a league rewards consistency and brilliance – which Messi has shown in leaps and bounds.
At an international level, he may struggle to break Argentina’s title drought but that is not without a lack of effort. At the Copa America, he had 17 shots on target and created 11 chances, more than any of his teammates. He leads from the front but unfortunately for him, his teammates can’t seem to keep up with him.
At 32, you would think his skills would start to dwindle and his star power is on the decline, but that is not the case. Only Karim Benzema has scored more goals than him in Spain so far this season. This is despite Messi missing five weeks at the start with an injury.
In his quest for the Champions League, he continues to break records. He became the first-ever player to score in 15 seasons. He has scored against 34 teams in the competition, more than any other player.
With such a record, he is the head and shoulders above the competition. And having confirmed himself as a better player than long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo, the likes of Van Dyk should be light work on the road to a sixth Ballon d'Or.