TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Liverpool's Dutch Champions League-winning defender Virgil van Dijk picked up UEFA's Men's Player of the Year on Thursday, August 30.
Van Dijk is the first defender to win the award, beating Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus and Barcelona's Lionel Messi who have won the award, established in 2010, five-times between them.
The 28-year-old Netherlands center-back has transformed Liverpool's defense since joining them from Southampton in January 2018 for a then world-record fee of 75 million pounds ($92.08 million) for a defender with his physical presence and superb reading of the game.
Van Dijk began his career in his homeland with Groningen and moved to Scottish club Celtic before heading to the Premier League, where he helped Liverpool to runners-up spot last season as well as a Champions League triumph over Tottenham Hotspur.
"It's been a long road but that's part of my journey, it's part of who I am. I needed it like this, I'm not a player who was 18 years old and had that rise straight away. I had to work hard for every step of the way - that's part of me and I'm very happy about that," said the Dutchman.
"I'm very proud to get this trophy and it's all credit to everyone that's helped me along the way."
Van Dijk had earlier picked up the Champions League Defender of the Season award.
Ronaldo and Messi, who have dominated the game's individual awards for the past decade, sat next to each other at the UEFA event and Ronaldo reflected on no longer being in direct competition with the Argentine in the Spanish league.
"It was a special year. I was curious because we've shared the stage here for 15 years. Of course, we have a good relationship. We have not yet had dinner but it is nice. We push each other and it's good to be part of the history of football," he said.