Virgil van Dijk is capable of becoming the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro to win the Ballon d’Or, claims Netherlands international team-mate Ryan Babel.
The Liverpool centre-half has just completed a memorable 2018-19 campaign.
He ended on a low, with a Nations League final defeat to Portugal, but can reflect fondly on the season just gone.
Van Dijk helped Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title, pushing Manchester City all the way, before landing Champions League glory in Madrid.
The 27-year-old then captained his country to a major final and is considered to have taken his game to even greater heights on the back of a record-breaking £75 million ($95m) move to Anfield in January 2018.
Plaudits continue to rain down on him and the general consensus is that the reigning PFA Player of the Year has many more accolades to come.
It could be that he challenges Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi for the 2019 Ballon d’Or, with no defender having claimed the prize since Italy’s World Cup-winning skipper Cannavaro.
Former Liverpool winger Babel told Sky Sports of a countryman’s claims to that award: “The last time I remember a defender winning the Ballon d’Or, it was Cannavaro in 2006. So it’s not impossible.
“I think it is fair that he would at least be on the shortlist.
“We will see in the end if he wins it or not. I would be very happy for him [if he does].”
While Van Dijk enjoyed a standout season for Liverpool, he may struggle to prevent Messi from claiming a sixth Ballon d’Or of his remarkable career.
The mercurial Argentine recorded 51 goals for Barcelona in just 50 appearances, helping them to another La Liga title, and Reds legend Jamie Carragher believes the iconic South American remains the man to beat.
He has told Sky Sports: “I’d be thinking Messi to be honest – very rarely you see a centre-back get that.
“I think that Cannavaro got it on the back of winning the World Cup in 2006. I don’t think his game has changed too much over the season.
“He’s obviously had a great season but I think you’ve got to win big things and I think that Champions League has put that stamp on him being one of the world’s best.”