(Reuters) – Liverpool’s Dutch Champions League-winning defender Virgil van Dijk was named UEFA’s Men’s Player of the Year on Thursday with England and Olympique Lyonnais defender Lucy Bronze picking up the women’s award.
Van Dijk is the first defender to win the award, beating Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi who have won the award, established in 2010, five-times between them.
The 28-year-old Netherands centre back has transformed Liverpool’s defence since joining them from Southampton in January, 2018 for a then world record fee of 75 million pounds ($92.08 million) for a defender with his physical presence and superb reading of the game.
Van Dijk began his career in his homeland with Groningen and moved to Scottish club Celtic before heading to the Premier League, where he helped Liverpool to runners-up spot last season as well as a Champions League triumph over Tottenham Hotspur.
“It’s been a long road but that’s part of my journey, it’s part of who I am. I needed it like this, I’m not a player who was 18 years old and had that rise straight away. I had to work hard for every step of the way – that’s part of me and I’m very happy about that,” said the Dutchman.
“I’m very proud to get this trophy and it’s all credit to everyone that’s helped me along the way.”
Van Dijk had earlier picked up the Champions League Defender of the Season award.
Ronaldo and Messi, who have dominated the game’s individual awards for the past decade, sat next to each other at the UEFA event and Ronaldo reflected on no longer being in direct competition with the Argentine in the Spanish league.
“It was a special year. I was curious because we’ve shared the stage here for 15 years. Of course, we have a good relationship. We have not yet had dinner but it is nice. We push each other and it’s good to be part of the history of football,” he said.
Bronze, the former Manchester City attacking fullback, enjoyed a successful season, winning the Champions League with Lyon and reaching the World Cup semi-final with England.
She finished ahead of club team mates Ada Hegerberg of Norway and Amandine Henry of France.
“I’m ecstatic and super humbled to have won the award up against two fantastic players who I know really well at Lyon; two great girls, great players.
“I want to say huge thanks to the Lionesses, the England team. We had a great summer and I don’t think I would have won this award if it wasn’t for them,” she said.
Following are the award winners who were honoured by UEFA during the Champions League draw in Monaco.
UEFA Men’s Player of the Year: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
UEFA Women’s Player of the Year: Lucy Bronze (Olympique Lyonnais)
Best players of the 2018/19 Champions League
Goalkeeper: Alisson Becker (Liverpool)
Defender: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Midfielder: Frenkie de Jong (Ajax)
Forward: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
UEFA President’s Award: Eric Cantona
Full Champions League group stage draw