LONDON • An unstoppable force will meet an unmovable object as Lionel Messi comes up against Virgil van Dijk tomorrow, with Liverpool travelling to Barcelona for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
But, while the Netherlands skipper is relishing putting the shackles on the Argentina talisman, the Ballon d'Or award is not a match-up he intends to win.
Speaking after being crowned the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Player of the Year by his peers on Sunday, van Dijk said: "(World Player of the Year) is not something that's on my mind at all.
"There are currently players walking around in this football world that are out of this world (Messi is a five-time Ballon d'Or winner) and they've been doing it for many years.
"I'm very happy how I perform at the moment, how consistent I'm performing, that I'm fit as well. I just need to not look too far ahead."
He is the fourth Dutchman to win English football's most prestigious individual prize and the first defender since Chelsea captain John Terry in 2005.
Van Dijk's compatriot Vivianne Miedema was named Women's Player of the Year after scoring 22 times to lead Arsenal Women to their first title since 2012.
Virgil van Dijk is the first defender since Chelsea's John Terry in 2005 to win the award.
No opposition player has dribbled past the Dutch defender in any of his 36 league appearances this season.
Besides facing Barcelona, Liverpool are aiming to overtake Manchester City's one-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.
Van Dijk, 27, said: "Right now, we're in a tight title race, (also) in the Champions League semi-finals against a fantastic team, where probably the best players are playing, so we just take it game by game.
"For us, now it's time to focus on Barcelona midweek and then we have a big game at Newcastle away (on Saturday) as well."
However, he admitted the accolade was "special" and said: "I'm very proud and honoured to receive it. If you see the standard of strikers or playmakers we have in the league, it's unbelievable."
Reds manager Jurgen Klopp was equally thrilled for van Dijk, who joined in January last year, jokingly referencing his £75 million (S$132 million) transfer fee as "a very, very small price". He said: "I'm really proud it's the second time in a row (Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was last year's winner).
"From the first moment (of signing), I was so excited about the opportunity to work together and now you are the man - at least for this season!"
Pundits also hailed van Dijk as a worthy winner, with former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer calling him "immense", while ex-Reds midfielder Danny Murphy talked up his "tremendous blend of athleticism and powers of recovery".
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, 24, won the PFA Young Player of the Year award and yesterday was named Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers' Association.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA