Portugal defender Jose Fonte has backed his Dutch counterpart Virgil van Dijk to win the 2019 Ballon d’Or award.
Van Dijk has enjoyed a stellar campaign at Liverpool, where he contributed decisively in their Premier League title challenge and in last weekend’s Champions League victory.
The 27-year-old was an ever-present figure in the Reds backline and made 50 appearances. But it was his aerial prowess, tactical awareness and leadership skills that left observers raving over him.
In fact, Van Dijk even also fought off stiff competition from Manchester City Raheem Sterling to be the PFA Player of the Year award.
But the Dutchman’s old Southampton team-mate Fonte isn’t the least bit surprised by his progress at Anfield.
“I had many conversations with my international team-mates, including Cedric [Soares],” said Fonte, according to AS.
“I remember telling him, ‘Listen, this guy I am sure he will be one of the best defenders in the world’”.
“I am not surprised to see him disputing the Ballon d’Or this year, I’m just pleased for him and I wish he keeps going like this.”
The 35-year-old also feels it’s time that a defender won the Ballon d’Or for a change. The last player to do so was Fabio Cannavaro after he led Italy to the 2006 World Cup.
“He [Van Dijk] was named Premier League player of the year, winning the Champions League, why not?” said Fonte.
“We always give it to the strikers because they score goals and everything but it is about time a defender gets one, no?”
Fonte will be at the UEFA Nations League final on Sunday after helping Portugal defeat Switzerland in the semi-finals. He made a 27-minute cameo as Cristiano Ronaldo struck two late goals to complete his hat-trick and earn the hosts a 3-1 victory.
Therefore, Fonte could face Van Dijk should the Netherlands defeat England tonight in their last-four clash.
And Portugal will likely fret over the fact nobody has dribbled past Van Dijk in the past 64 games.
“It is an incredible stat, isn’t it? It is difficult, but no-one is unbeatable,” said Fonte.
“If there is someone [who can beat Van Dijk], Cristiano is one of them.”