Ballon d'Or 2019: Gerard Pique picks Lionel Messi as his favourite for the award, warns Virgil van Dijk about his chances as a defender
What's the story?
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has named Lionel Messi as his favourite to win the 2019 Ballon d'Or and has warned Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk of the difficulties that defenders face when in the race for such individual awards.
In case you didn't know...
The conclusion of an exciting season of football has bred an array of predictions for the award season. UEFA set the ball rolling after they named Van Dijk as their Player of the Year ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on Thursday.
The Liverpool star's win is hardly a surprise as he has been tipped as an overwhelming favourite to sweep all individual prizes this year.
The Netherlands international was recognised for the integral role he played in Liverpool's spectacular journey last season. He helped the Merseyside outfit to the Champions League title and maintained the Premier League's best defence as his side put up one of the closest fights for the league title.
Van Dijk remains a genuine contender for the Ballon d'Or this year despite facing stiff competition from Messi, who enjoyed a scintillating individual season backed by 51 goals in all competitions.
The heart of the matter
Pique has named his Barcelona teammate Messi as his favourite to win the award and has warned Van Dijk of the improbability of defenders winning awards like the Ballon d'Or.
Speaking to Express Sport, he said,
"I always said that for me, if you have to vote for the best player of them all, you have to vote for Lionel Messi. For the last ten years, he has been by far the best player in the world, but it is fair enough that Van Dijk has done a great season and he should be there fighting for it.
"It is not easy. This game is made for strikers. When they score they are the stars and when they don't score, normally nothing happens.
"For keepers and defenders, it is more difficult. When you do a good job it is difficult for people to recognise you but when you make a mistake you are everywhere. Normally strikers will win it."
Should van Dijk win the Ballon d'Or at the end of the year, he will become the first defender to do so since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.