This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
It was so close, yet so far for Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk in his attempts to win the Ballon d’Or.
The Netherlands international had been amongst the favourites prior to the ceremony and some, such as his boss Jurgen Klopp, backed him to win the individual award. However, in the end, it was the diminutive FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi who won the trophy, collecting it for the sixth time in his glorious career.
The difference between the two could barely have been smaller. As the Argentina international picked up 686 points in the voting, the Reds centre-back amassed 679. Eight more people actually chose the former Southampton man as their first choice over Messi, and it is the smallest margin of victory he has had in any of his six triumphs.
The 28-year-old will have no doubt been disappointed to have come within touching distance of being crowned the best player on the planet, especially after such a fantastic year. He was a part of the best defence in the English top flight, with Liverpool conceding just 22 goals with him as part of their back four. Not only that, he played a big role as the Reds lifted the Champions League in June in Madrid. He also impressed on the international stage, captaining the Oranje to the UEFA Nations League final against Portugal, a game they would eventually lose 1-0.
Keeping up with Lionel Messi, though, is a tough task for anyone. The 32-year-old scored an astonishing 51 goals in 50 matches last term, providing 22 assists along the way. His amazing performances helped the Catalan club win La Liga, too.
In the end, it may have been the smallest margins in the Premier League that kept van Dijk’s hands off the golden ball. Liverpool finished one point behind Manchester City in the end, becoming the team with the most points not to win the league. They even led by seven points at one stage, but they were unable to hold on.
Would things have been different had John Stones been 11mm too late at the Etihad Stadium at the start of the year? Who knows. But had the Reds picked up the trophy at the end of the campaign, then there would surely have been no question as to who would receive the ultimate individual recognition. As it is, van Dijk will have to make do with second-place, just as he did domestically last term.
Meanwhile, Liverpool fans react to this leak for next season.