Van Dijk gets Ballon d'Or backing from Fonte

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Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk collected the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Player of the Year award in 2018-2019 and concluded his club campaign by being named man of the match in the Reds' 2-0 Champ ons League final win over Tottenham last weekend.

Fonte is not surprised at his former defensive partner's progress.

"I had many conversations with my international team-mates, including Cedric [Soares], I remember telling him, 'Listen, this guy I am sure he will be one of the best defenders in the world'," the 35 year-old said after Portugal saw off Switzerland 3-1 in Porto thanks to a stunning Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick.

"I am not surprised to see him disputing the Ballon d'Or this year, I am just pleased for him and I wish he keeps going like this."

Fabio Cannavaro was the last defender to win world football's most coveted individual prize in 2006 and Fonte feels the time is right for a master of his craft to be recognised once more - echoing sentiments expressed by Van Dijk's international boss Ronald Koeman.

"He was named Premier League player of the year, winning the Champions League, why not?" he said. "We always give it to the strikers because they score goals and everything but it is about time a defender gets one, no?"

Fonte and Van Dijk played together for 18 months for Saints, with the Dutchman taking the captaincy when his colleague left for West Ham.

"It's not only me, everyone could see the pace he had, how strong he is – he wins every duel," Fonte said. "It was just about improving his positioning, and that is what he did when he came to Southampton.

:He stopped coming out with the ball too much, trying to dribble too much, playing simple."

Asked whether that meant he deserved some credit for Van Dijk's rise, the Lille defender chuckled and replied: "Ah, listen, I have a little bit of credit, but the main thing is him, he is an amazing talent."

Van Dijk has not been dribbled past in his previous 64 games for Liverpool – an incredible and now much-discussed statistic.

"It is an incredible stat, isn't it? It is not easy, but no-one is unbeatable," Fonte said. "If there is someone [who can beat Van Dijk], Cristiano is one of them."