Virgil van Dijk can become the third defender on Monday at the FIFA gala to be named the world's best footballer. The Liverpool captain will compete in Milan with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
28-year-old Van Dijk was named best player in Europe earlier this month by UEFA. Even then Messi and Ronaldo were his competitors. Those two greats distributed the prizes for years, until Luka Modric won the title last year.
Van Dijk has had a particularly successful season in which the defender won the Champions League with Liverpool. In the Premier League, the club finished second behind Manchester City. He was elected player of the year in England. With Orange, he seized second place in the Nations League.
It is not so common that the title of best player goes to a defender. The German Franz Beckenbauer won the Golden Ball - a precursor to The Best of FIFA - in 1972 and 1976. In 2006, the prize went to Italian Fabio Cannavaro.
Cannavaro was also named FIFA World Player of the Year that year, an election that FIFA itself held from 1991 to 2009. From 2010, the Golden Ball election (introduced in 1956) and that of FIFA were merged. They have been separated since 2016, meaning that this year for the fourth year in a row two large football gala are being held again.
In the success year 1988 Van Basten won the Golden Ball. Ruud Gullit became second and Frank Rijkaard third. (Photo: ANP)
Van Dijk may be the fourth Dutchman to win the prize
Van Dijk can also end up in a select row of Dutch players who have won the Golden Ball or the FIFA title. Johan Cruijff was named the best footballer in the world in 1971, 1973 and 1974. He was succeeded in 1987 by Ruud Gullit.
A year later was the honorary title for Marco van Basten, who also won the prize in 1989 and 1992. In that final year, he was elected world footballer of the year by both FIFA and the Golden Ball organization.
It has been a while since a Dutch football player was among the best three players in the world. Dennis Bergkamp was the last person to reach the top three in 1993. The attacker then finished second in the Golden Ball and third in the FIFA election.
Van Dijk follows in the footsteps of Michael Owen, who was the only Liverpool player ever to win the Golden Ball in 2001. Fernando Torres was nominated as a player of 'The Reds' in 2008, but finished third.
Sari van Veenendaal was already selected as the best goalkeeper at the Women's World Championship. (Photo: ANP)
Wiegman and Van Veenendaal were also nominated
In addition to Van Dijk, Sarina Wiegman and Sari van Veenendaal also have the chance to win a prestigious award. Wiegman has been nominated as the best coach of a women's team. She gets competition from the American coach Jill Ellis and the Englishman Phil Neville.
Van Veenendaal takes on the Chilean Christiane Endler and the Swedish Hedvig Lindahl in the battle for the title of best goalkeeper in the world. She was already named the best goalie of the tournament at the World Cup. The Orange lost the final to the United States in France.
The gala in Milan starts on Monday evening around 8.30 p.m. The presentation is in the hands of Ruud Gullit and the Italian Ilaria D'Amico.