Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp hailed Virgil van Dijk as the "best defender in the world" after the centre-back was named the 2018-19 UEFA Men's Player of the Year on Thursday.
The Dutchman was also named the UEFA Champions League Defender of the Season at the same awards ceremony, and Klopp said the recognition of his achievements was the "icing on the cake" for the Reds' successful campaign in that competition.
He told James Carroll for Liverpool's official website:
"I'm so happy for him; I'm happy for us as well because he knows that without the boys around him, he cannot win that prize. It's a prize for all of us—but we send our big man there to get it. It's big.
"It's really rare for a defender. It's such important information for football, such an important sign for football. Yes, we all love goals—we want to score them and see them—but more and more and more people get excited about defending.
"Virg is an exceptional defender, in the moment 100 per cent the best defender in the world, so he deserves that prize absolutely."
Van Dijk, who became the first defender to win the award, had an exceptional 2018-19 campaign (U.S. only):
The 28-year-old helped the Reds get through a tough Champions League group that contained Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade, while in the knockout phase they had to beat Bayern Munich, Porto, Barcelona and finally Tottenham Hotspur to win the trophy.
In that time, Van Dijk was not dribbled past by a single opponent, per OptaJose.
His awards on Thursday capped an exceptional year in Europe and domestically:
Football on BT Sport @btsportfootball
Virgil van Dijk awards and trophies 2018/19: UEFA Champions League UEFA Super Cup UEFA Men's Best Player award PFA Player of the Year Liverpool fans' Player of the Year Liverpool players' Player of the Year Premier League Team of the Season Champions League Team of the Season 🏆 https://t.co/w48IcdsTYh
The player was quick to credit his team-mates and others at Liverpool upon being given the main prize:
Football journalist Guillem Balague spoke on BBC Radio 5 Live about the centre-back and detailed what makes him so good:
The Dutchman played a big part in the Reds' run to Champions League glory last term, and Klopp will hope he is in similar form this season.
Liverpool have been drawn alongside Napoli, RB Salzburg and Genk in Group E. The Serie A side will likely carry the biggest threat to the Reds, but Klopp is not underestimating Salzburg or Genk:
"I know how people are and immediately they will say these are the two 'smaller teams' of the group. They are not. I am not sure how it is for Genk, but for Salzburg they fought for so long and so hard to be part of the Champions League, so they will fight with whatever they have. They will have 30,000 in their stadium who will show how long they were waiting for it. That's the group, so now let's prepare for it."
Van Dijk arrived at Liverpool from Southampton in January 2018.
Along with goalkeeper Alisson—who arrived the following summer and was named Champions League Goalkeeper of the Season on Thursday—he has had a transformative impact on Liverpool's defensive prospects.
What had been a source of weakness at Anfield for several years became one of the team's biggest strengths thanks to his commanding presence on the ground and in the air.
Van Dijk is at the peak of his powers, and with an excellent team around him, he and Liverpool look set for much more success in the coming years.