Portugal’s Jose Fonte believes ex-team-mate Virgil van Dijk is in with a chance of winning this year’s Ballon d’Or, following a stunning season with Liverpool which culminated in winning the Champions League last Saturday.
Euro 2016 winner Fonte played alongside Van Dijk over 50 times at the heart of the Southampton defence from 2015 to 2017 and says he always knew that the Dutchman would go on to become one of the finest centre backs around.
“I had many conversations with my international teammates, including Cedric [Soares],” Fonte said. “I remember telling him 'listen, this guy I am sure he will be one of the best defenders in the world'.
“It is obvious, it is not only me, everyone could see the pace he had, how strong he is, [he] wins every duel.
“It was just about improving his positioning, and that is what he did when he came to Southampton, he stopped coming out with the ball too much, trying to dribble too much, playing simple.”
Van Dijk has been the Premier League’s best defender since joining Liverpool, helping Jurgen Klopp’s side reach 97 points this season just past and making it to consecutive Champions League finals. While Fonte is reluctant to take much credit for helping the Netherlands captain improve throughout their time together, he is nonetheless delighted to see him shining on the world stage.
“I have a little bit of credit but the main thing is him, he is an amazing talent,” said the Lille man.
“I am not surprised to see him disputing the Ballon d'Or this year, I am just pleased for him and I wish he keeps going like this.
“I think he has a shot to be honest. He was named Premier League player of the year, winning the Champions League, why not?
“We always give it to the strikers because they score goals and everything, but it is about time a defender gets one, no?”
Should the Netherlands defeat England in Guimaraes on Thursday, they will take their place alongside Portugal in the first-ever UEFA Nations League final in Porto on Sunday, where Van Dijk will come face to face with Cristiano Ronaldo.
The all-time Portuguese top goal scorer netted a spectacular hat-trick against Switzerland in the semi-finals on Wednesday night and Fonte believes if there is any player in the world who can end Van Dijk’s incredible run of not being dribbled past then it is Ronaldo.
“It is not easy, but no one is unbeatable,” said Fonte. “It is an incredible stat, isn't it? If there is someone, Cristiano is one of them.”