Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk was gracious in defeat as Lionel Messi won a record sixth Ballon d’Or, describing his rival’s talent as “unnatural”.

After finishing fifth last year, Messi finished top of the pile in 2019 to win the most prestigious individual prize in football. Van Dijk came second and, for the first time since 2010, Cristiano Ronaldo missed out on the top two to come third.

Van Dijk helped Liverpool to a sixth Champions League title, 12 months on from finishing as runners-up, and a stunning 97 points in the Premier League. Liverpool are heavy favourites to end their long wait for a Premier League title this season.

“It was an amazing year, but there’s a couple of players like that who are a bit unnatural,” said Van Dijk, of Messi and Ronaldo. “So you need to respect greatness as well.

“I was close, but there was just someone a little bit better.

“I’m very proud of what I achieved last year with Liverpool and Holland, and hopefully we can do that again this year. But that will be tough with those guys around here still.”

Van Dijk admitted he had never expected to be in the running for the prestigious title.

“I never thought that I would be up for a Ballon d’Or until I was actually nominated,” said Van Dijk.

“It shows a lot about how my career has been. My career has been different from the winner here, I came late, but I never gave up on my dreams.

“I had to work hard every step of the way, so to be here makes me very proud. And I want to work hard and be here again next year.”

Source: Alex Young