Former Groningen manager Pieter Huistra has backed his old star man Virgil van Dijk to become a serious contender for the 2019 Ballon d’Or.
Since completing a world-record £75m from Southampton in January 2018, Van Dijk has become one of the world’s most respected defenders at Liverpool.
The Netherlands international was pivotal in Liverpool’s turnaround into becoming Premier League title challengers this season and won the PFA Player of the Year.
But Van Dijk’s biggest impact came in helping Liverpool win the Champions League. It ended a seven-year wait for silverware at Anfield and further cemented the 27-year-old’s status among the world’s elite.
And now Huistra thinks Van Dijk has it in him to become the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
“He’s one of the contenders. There are always other players as well, but they should certainly consider him,” Huistra told talkSPORT.
“A defender is often overlooked, but defending is a very important part of football. Attacking always starts from the defenders. Virgil is important in that, he can direct from the back.
“I always said to my central defenders, ‘you’re always the playmakers of the team, you decide how the attack will start’.
“So if you have a defender like Virgil, who is quick and direct and has a good diagonal pass or a pass in behind the opposition, it’s very effective and important.”
The now-assistant coach of Uzbek club Pakhtakor Tashkent FK also reckons Van Dijk is a more complete player than Manchester United icon Nemanja Vidic.
“I’m biased anyway, so I would choose Virgil. He has more, he has a little bit more,” said Huistra.
“Vidic, of course, with no doubt was a very good player, he played in a top team.
“In my view, Virgil has everything. He has the flair, he has the technique, he has the passing, he has the defensive leadership, he has the personality that catches people’s eye.
“I just admire the strengths of certain players.
“There have been very good defenders in the Premier League and when you [Van Dijk] are talked about in that group of players, then it’s a good honour.”