'He is a unique defender' - Gary Neville admits he got it wrong when he questioned Virgil van Dijk's Liverpool move
Manchester United legend Gary Neville believes Virgil van Dijk should now be recognised as one of the world's best defenders, after admitting he has been surprised by his progress since his record breaking move to Liverpool.
The Anfield club smashed the transfer record for a defender when they signed Van Dijk for £75m in January 2018, with Neville admitting the price tag was more than a little inflated for a player who had been top of manager Jurgen Klopp's wanted list for more than a year.
Now Neville has admitted he was wrong to question Van Dijk, as he suggested the centre-back should be crowned as PFA Player of the Year after his sparkling performances for Liverpool this season.
"It wasn't the signing itself that surprised me, it was the amount" Neville told Sky Sports. "I remember when Manchester City signed Kyle Walker for £50m it left me thinking 'wow that's incredible' and the same with Virgil van Dijk.
"However, watching him in this last 12 months, everyone has given him the praise he deserves. He's been absolutely outstanding and I remember looking back at my career, Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand, they're a defender in a team that makes everybody feel safe.
"Honestly, every time I watch Liverpool play, even if Matip misses it or two full-backs aren't there because they've gone forward, he just seems to cover the whole back four. He is a unique defender.
"Varane and Ramos have been the best centre backs in the world for me over the past few years but there is no doubt this guy is going to be up there in the next few years as the best centre half in the world because I've not seen a centre half as good for a long, long time.
"In possession play, his passing is a joke. It's unbelievable, he passes like a central midfield player. For me, he's the player in the team where everyone will say he's the one that can't get injured. 100% my player of the year and there's not anyone else close to him."
Neville went on to suggest he expects to see some twists in this season's title race, after Liverpool return to the top of the table after their 3-1 win at Southampton on Friday night.
Manchester City have a game in hand on their title rivals, with Neville suggesting both will drop points amid a hectic fixture list in April.
"It wouldn't surprise me if City dropped points in two games, and Liverpool dropped points in two games," he added. "We have seen an outstanding level of performance from both teams this season. We have got great games to watch.
"Next Sunday is huge. Crystal Palace, next Sunday, is tough for City. If City do go and win that match and the Liverpool players know they have to go and win against Chelsea the legs start to get that little bit heavier.
"If City drop points, then Liverpool will bounce onto that pitch. We are going to witness it first hand all the way to the end of the season.
"Liverpool are in a good moment. They look less emotional than last season the way they have played. There was a level of desperation, a level of frantic-ness in the way they played [last season."