LONDON • Virgil van Dijk has voted for Raheem Sterling, one of his biggest rivals for the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) Player of the Year award, to win this season's prize in recognition of his improvement at Manchester City.
The Liverpool defender is among the favourites to land the accolade following an outstanding campaign for the Premier League leaders but believes that several City players should be in the running.
Van Dijk ultimately opted for the former Liverpool forward, likely his closest challenger for the honour, with voting rules preventing players backing their teammates.
Sterling, who is believed to have voted for Tottenham striker Harry Kane, has 15 goals and nine assists for Pep Guardiola's team this season as they attempt to retain the league title at Liverpool's expense.
The Netherlands captain said: "I voted for Raheem Sterling. I did what I thought and he deserves it. He's had a fantastic season.
"I could have voted for Bernardo Silva as well and another couple of players from Manchester City.
"But I am just being honest. He has improved a lot as a player. We will see if he wins it."
The 27-year-old also reiterated his focus was on silverware with Jurgen Klopp's team and not individual awards.
He added: "Of course, you're going to be proud (to be in the running for the award), but all the hard work in the training ground is something we all did together.
"It is to win something as a team, a collective thing as a club. Hopefully, that is something that will happen."
Sterling has earned his peers' respect and their votes not only because of his on-pitch exploits but also off it, as an increasingly prominent campaigner against racism in football.
On Monday, the England international issued a defiant message to racists that he was "proud to be black".
Declaring he would rather stay on the field and punish the opposition in the face of racist abuse than be part of an orchestrated walk-off, he added: "My mum has taught me how to love myself, how to love my skin colour and how to be comfortable in my skin colour.
"I wouldn't personally agree with it (leaving the field). I would rather go and win the game because that would hurt them even more.
"They're trying to get you down. If you do walk off as a group, then they win. If you score a goal to win the match, that's an even better feeling, which beats them."
However, the 24-year-old played down his impact as a spokesman on how racism is a blight on the game, saying he "did not really think he can make a difference as this is something that has been happening before I was born".
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON