In a likely preview of the Ballon d’Or ceremony, UEFA has nominated Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Virgil Van Dijk as its final three contestants for the European federation’s Player of the Year award.
Liverpool defender van Dijk makes his first appearance on the shortlist, while Ronaldo is a three-time winner of the award and Messi has won twice.
Van Dijk’s rise to international stardom has been swift, first becoming the most expensive defender in the world with his summer 2017 move to Liverpool before backing up that label with stellar center-back play en route to a pair of Champions League finals appearances, winning the competition last season. He was voted last season’s Premier League Player of the Year as well as the Players’ Player of the Year, helping Liverpool to a tough-luck second place finish with the league’s best defensive record.
Messi, meanwhile, was the top scorer in La Liga last season with 36 goals, while adding 15 more assists. He was just as unplayable in Champions League competition, scoring 12 goals in 10 matches before Barcelona fell to Liverpool in the semifinals thanks to one of the more memorable comebacks of the tournament’s history. All told, Messi topped the 50-goal mark last season for the second time in the last three campaigns.
Ronaldo finds the list after completing his first season with Juventus, a season that saw the club secure its eighth straight Scudetto, scoring 21 goals last season in league play despite Massamiliano Allegri’s defensive-minded setup, winning the Serie A MVP award. Now, under Maurizio Sarri, Ronaldo could breeze by that total and truly announce himself in the Italian top flight. The 34-year-old also helped lead Portugal to the first-ever Nations League crown, scoring a hat-trick in the semifinals against Switzerland before a 1-0 win over van Dijk’s Netherlands secured the title.
The award will be presented during the Champions League group stage draw in Monaco on August 29.