Van Dijk billed as best defender in the world as AC Milan legend Baresi salutes Liverpool’s ‘leader’

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Virgil van Dijk has been billed as the best defender in the world by AC Milan legend Franco Baresi, with Liverpool considered to have found a “leader” who adds “quality, character and strength” to their ranks.

The commanding Netherlands international on the books at Anfield is widely considered to be the finest exponent of his chosen position in the modern game.

Said standing has been recognised at prestigious award ceremonies, with Van Dijk being named UEFA Player of the Year for 2019 before going on to finish second behind only Barcelona icon Lionel Messi in the Ballon d’Or vote.

His arrival on Merseyside has been credited with helping to get Liverpool back to winning ways, with Champions League, UEFA Super and Club World Cup crowns having been collected by Jurgen Klopp’s side since £75 million ($93m) was invested in the powerful centre-half.

Baresi believes that success helps to highlight the value of talented defenders, with the Rossoneri great telling FIFA when asked to make his pick of the current crop: “Football has changed so much in the last 15 to 20 years, not just on the pitch but in how it’s seen, access to information and the role of social media and all that.

“I think the way in which defenders are seen has also changed over the years. Real football fans know how important defenders are and they appreciate them.

“If I had to name names, then the one who really stands out is Virgil van Dijk, who’s shown the quality, character and strength that a defender needs to have to be a successful leader of a team like Liverpool.”

Baresi, who spent his entire 20-year career with Milan, once played with and against some of the very finest talent the world has ever seen.

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Quizzed as to the makeup of his all-time list, the ex-Italy international said: “I’ve played with and against so many great players that it’s hard for me to choose.

“But given everything I’ve learned about football in my life, I’m going to choose two players from every generation who have really made their mark on the history of the game.

“Pele and Eusebio – who I remember watching on TV when I was young – Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, then Diego Maradona and Michel Platini, Ronaldo and Marco van Basten, and finally Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. That ought to do it!”