Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton has waxed lyrical about the ‘outstanding’ Virgil van Dijk, whom he considers to be a “god”.
The former Manchester City and Rangers man also categorised Van Dijk as amongst the best defenders of the modern era. Barton placed his name alongside the iconic likes of Sergio Ramos and Ashley Cole.
In just three years, he has helped transform a once vulnerable back-four into one of the best defensive units in Europe. He is the only defender in history to have been crown the UEFA Player of the Year, too.
Having clocked up 130 appearances, Van Dijk has been pivotal in Liverpool’s recent Premier League and Champions League success.
And Barton has recognised Van Dijk as one of the best defenders of all time, using the Dutchman as an example of what his defenders at Rovers should strive for if they retain ambitions of reaching the top.
Barton on Van Dijk
Speaking with the Bristol Post, he said: “I asked the boys yesterday who is the best defender of the modern era. The names start coming out: Virgil Van Dijk, Sergio Ramos, Ashley Cole.
“You have to offer a few. A few like Roberto Ayala, Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Franco Baresi, and you show them.
“Virgil van Dijk is a god. He’s 6ft 85in, he’s got muscles everywhere, not a blemish on his face, modelling contracts everywhere, he’s a colossus.
“But your flipside of that is Franco Baresi who looks like someone who’s been dragged in off the street, and I’m telling you I’d rather have Baresi in my time.
“Virgil is outstanding, but Baresi, for the competition and the way he competed and used his body and never let the striker have a moment. That’s an attitude, not a physical output.”
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Barton makes a number of telling points, notably the comparison with World Cup runner-up, Baresi.
There can be little doubt that Van Dijk is currently the standout defender in Europe. It wasn’t too long ago, after all, that the Dutchman was recognised for the Ballon d’Or award back in 2019 – he finished second behind Lionel Messi.
Still, to already be considered amongst the all-time greats is quite the statement. With so much still to come in Van Dijk’s already illustrious career, it’s scary to think how he will be regarded in just a few years time.
If anything, Barton’s compliments only make Van Dijk’s current absence all the more painful. His influence on his club-side has been laid bare for all to see in recent months, after all.
And that’s precisely what sets him apart from the rest. In such a short space of time, Van Dijk has already established himself as one of Liverpool’s most influential players it its 128-year history.