Liverpool's Virgil Van Dijk named Players' Player of the Year
Liverpool centre-back Virgil Van Dijk has been named the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Players’ Player of the Year.
Liverpool's Virgil Van Dijk has become the first defender to win the Professional Footballers' Association's Players' Player of the Year award since Chelsea's John Terry in 2005.
Raheem Sterling picked up the Young Player of the Year prize and Manchester City also won awards in the women's game through Georgia Stanway (Women's Young Player of the Year) and Steph Houghton (Special Achievement).
Arsenal's Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema was named the women's Players' Player of the Year.
Liverpool's decision to smash the world record transfer fee for a defender barely 18 months ago was viewed as foolish and desperate by critics, calculated and necessary by others.
In today's transfer market £75million can still buy you a very good striker or a couple of decent midfielders but Jurgen Klopp already had that, what he needed was a game-changer at the back. The final piece of the jigsaw.
He was in absolutely no doubt Virgil Van Dijk was that man. He wanted him above all others and the fact he was prepared to play half a season without defensive reinforcement while Southampton's resolve weakened spoke volumes.
Klopp was castigated for that decision but no one, not even his harshest critics, can argue it was not worth the wait.
Defenders of Van Dijk's stature come around once in a generation for clubs: Liverpool's last was Sami Hyypia, who left Anfield a decade ago.
Of all his considerable attributes - and there are many - it is the Dutchman's air of calm authority which has probably made the most difference to a back line which suffered from lapses in concentration and set-piece vulnerability.
Just a look at his raw statistics identify how important he has been. In 67 matches for his club he has been involved in 34 clean sheets across all competitions.
Boil that down to the Premier League and it is 26 in 50 matches and one of the main reasons why Liverpool are now genuine title contenders.
His success rate in aerial duels is more than 75 per cent and the fact he has committed just 12 fouls and been shown one yellow card highlights just how impeccable his reading of the game, his positioning, his pace and timing actually is.
He has made just one mistake which has led to a goal, at Fulham, and it ultimately did not have a bearing on the result.
Van Dijk may be laid back, to the point of horizontal at times, and quietly-spoken but he is a born leader and seen by most fans as a captain-in-waiting, having already worn the armband in the absence of Jordan Henderson and James Milner.
He announced his arrival in January 2018 in the grandest of styles with a late FA Cup winner against Everton in front of the Kop.
For many players that would be a career highlight but Van Dijk has so much more to offer and Klopp admits there is still room for improvement.
But the sign of a truly great player is not only his ability to elevate himself but to make the players around him better and his effect on the team has been noticeable.
Joel Matip, his regular partner in the latter stage of the season, has visibly grown in confidence, Dejan Lovren has eliminated the errors which often dogged his game and 21-year-old Joe Gomez, seen as Klopp's long-term solution alongside the Holland captain, flourished under his guidance.
Van Dijk has stood out at every club he has played, starting at Groningen where he overcame potentially-fatal appendicitis, peritonitis and kidney trouble as a 20-year-old to become a star performer.
Ajax turned down the chance to sign him and remarkably Celtic, the only club interested, picked him up for just £2.8m. He played there for two seasons before joining Southampton for £13m.
Van Dijk's progress was taking him closer and closer to the top and after two years at St Mary's he knew it was time to make the leap to the higher echelons but when Liverpool were rebuffed in the summer of 2017 he handed in a transfer request.
It was a move viewed as unprofessional but Van Dijk simply saw it as part of his individual progress and it was credit to the player when he returned to the side after recovering from injury he retained his standards and level of commitment.
He got the move he wanted four months later and he and Liverpool have not looked back.