Gus Poyet believes Virgil van Dijk's outstanding season for Liverpool warrants a nomination for Premier League Player of the Year.
The Netherlands international has accumulated more minutes of league football this season than any other player in Jurgen Klopp's squad and helped the Reds to a league-best 15 goals conceded as they challenge Manchester City for the title.
Van Dijk's performances have also seen him tipped for individual awards, despite previous accolades being mostly reserved for midfield and forward players.
Poyet, though, believes it's time to end the bias against defenders when it comes to selecting the outstanding player of the season.
Speaking to Goal , he said: "I agree with a few pundits that he should be a big candidate as Premier League Player of the Year this year. We don’t usually like to name defenders but I think it’s a good time to put him in there. He’s been outstanding."
Poyet is a long-time admirer of Van Dijk and was close to signing him whilst in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion in 2013, though the Seagulls were priced out of a deal and he would eventually join Celtic instead.
"I went to Groningen to watch him," Poyet said. "We flew to Holland to watch a game and he was absolutely outstanding. It was so easy for him.
"It was after our first season in the Championship, he would have cost us €3 million and we couldn’t afford him. We had just moved to the Amex and we had a lot of expenses and it was not possible. We were very close.
"When he went to Celtic I wasn’t surprised. When he went to Southampton and then to Liverpool it was a bit of a shock but he always had the potential. After the day in Groningen – even after half an hour of watching him – me and my assistant, Mauricio Taricco, thought it would be incredible if we were able to sign him for Brighton."
Asked whether or not Van Dijk's ascent has come as a shock, Poyet said: "I’m not surprised. When you see someone with that potential, when you see someone with that power, you know.
"The only problem is you don’t know him as a player, you don’t know him mentally. At the time, It’s impossible to know. We knew that if he was intelligent or a guy who wanted to improve then he will go to the top, no doubt, and he has!
"Dutch players are usually good on the ball, but he is an athlete - he’s very powerful, he’s good in the air and can deal with the strong players because of his strength. He’s got everything.
"He’s had the ideal career progression, too. Sometimes players go to a top team and they have to perform straight away. He’s had the right steps – from Celtic to Southampton – a nice progression of knowing the leagues and now he has a chance of being a Premier League winner. Those steps, I think, have helped him become the player he is today."