UEFA is set to announce the 2018/19 Player of the Year on Thursday with Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo all vying for the prized trophy.
Luka Modric, the current holder, has been replaced by the Liverpool defender while the other two superstars have retained their spots in the top three nominees.
Will Van Dijk claim the award and ensure that the duopoly is truly over or will one of Messi or Ronaldo add to their vast collection?
We take a deeper look at the contenders, list our arguments and help you single out the best.
Why Messi should win
The Barcelona icon has continued to evolve and unlock new dimensions to his game even at 32. He has now established himself as arguably the best direct free-kick taker in the world, while enhancing his claim to being one of the best playmakers as well.
The Argentine carried Barcelona to yet another league title and secured another Golden Shoe, scoring 36 goals in 29 starts. He also grabbed the most assists (13) in La Liga and scored the most Champions League goals (12).
The two-time UEFA Player of the Year excelled in all areas last season, so much so that the hashtag #onlymessihasmore was trending because there were very few attacking stats which had any player above the Argentine.
Trophies aside, if the award is given to a player solely based on ability, no player deserves it more than Messi
Why Messi should not win
The bar is set so high for Messi that the failure to win the Champions League is seen as a breaking point. Given Barcelona’s heavy investment in the transfer market, a four-year Champions League drought is derisory, particularly given the manner of their exits in the last two editions.
Messi rescued Barcelona several times last season but that he failed to do so when his team needed him most – the second leg of the semi-final against Liverpool – will always be held against him.
It’s also worth noting that Messi had a poor Copa America tournament in which Argentina finished third. Both Van Dijk and Ronaldo bettered this in the Nations League.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK
Why Van Dijk should win
No one individual has transformed his side quite in the way Van Dijk has Liverpool. The former Southampton defender raised eyebrows when he was acquired for a then world-record fee for a defender at £75 million. But he has done more than enough to justify the price tag.
Van Dijk inspired the Reds to their sixth Champions League success, delivering near-perfect shows in crucial games. With Joe Gomez suffering an injury-ridden season, the Dutchman was not always partnered by a top centre-back but the captain without the armband took the initiative and led Liverpool’s defence to clean-sheets, one after the other.
He also helped Liverpool to 97 points in the league and went the entire season without being dribbled past a single time.
Van Dijk also played a key role in leading the Netherlands to the final of the Nations League, just two years after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Why Van Dijk should not win
The Dutch defender missed out on the double, with Manchester City proving to be just too good domestically as they claimed the Premier League title. That there are top defenders who have managed this feat and yet have failed to win this individual award does not bode well for the Dutchman.
Comparing Van Dijk to the other two would be a classic case of apples and oranges. While stats like goals and assists can make an unfair case for forwards, no tangible stats can quantify the impact a defender has on the game. The opinion that Van Dijk was the best centre-back in the world last season, no matter how convincing, will always be subjective without numbers.
There is no legitimate reason why Van Dijk does not deserve the award, apart from the fact that Messi was, just maybe, marginally better at doing what he does and has the numbers to show for it.
Why Ronaldo should win
Ronaldo embraced a new challenge in Italy and adapted very well, scoring 21 goals in Serie A and providing eight assists. The Nations League trophy also diversified his vast collection.
He also won Serie A’s best player and created several records at the European level.
Ronaldo became the first player to reach 100 wins and score 125 goals in the Champions League. The Nations League trophy was his 10th UEFA title, and he became the first player to achieve that feat.
He also became the first player to score in all major international competitions involving European teams – the World Cup, European Championships, Confederations Cup and Nations League.
Why Ronaldo should not win
Frankly, it’s surprising that Ronaldo made the top-three ahead of compatriot Bernardo Silva, who won the domestic treble in England and the Nations League with Portugal while being the best player in both teams.
Ronaldo won the Scudetto with Juventus, a title that they’ve faced little competition for even in seasons prior to his arrival. Besides, a poacher’s job is to score goals, which is independent of the system as long as he has good supply – something he has had at Juve and Real Madrid. The real challenge in Turin involves turning them back into a force across Europe, with the Champions League title now eluding them for 24 years – so in that regard, Ronaldo failed.
In the league, Ronaldo was outscored by 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella, who notched 26 times for Sampdoria. In the Nations League, he was outshone by Silva, who walked away with the Best Player award.
Sadio Mane scored more goals (22) in a league of considerably superior quality and helped his team to the Champions League title. The Portuguese was not even the best player in his position.
Sergio Aguero managed the same numbers for Manchester City in the league and played a crucial role in their domestic treble win, implying that Ronaldo was not the best poacher either.
Ronaldo was a level below Messi, Van Dijk and several other players last season and has made the top-three purely based on reputation.
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