LONDON: Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk was named as England’s PFA Player of the Year for 2019 on Sunday.
Van Dijk succeeded Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah in winning the award, voted for by his fellow players and saw off competition from Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling.
But Sterling, 24, was named the Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year, following on from City colleague Leroy Sane.
Van Dijk joined Liverpool from Southampton for £75 million ($97 million, 87 million euros) in January 2018.
The 27-year-old Dutchman has been an ever-present for Liverpool in their bid to dethrone City as Premier League champions this season, with Sterling’s side one point clear of the Reds at the top of the table with just two games left to play.
Van Dijk has starred in a hugely improved Liverpool defence that has kept 20 clean sheets and conceded a mere 20 goals in the current campaign.
“It’s pretty difficult to put into words,” said Van Dijk, the first defender to win the award since Chelsea’s John Terry 14 years ago.
“I think it’s the highest honour you can get as a player to get voted player of the year by the players you play against every week. It’s special. I’m very proud and honoured to receive it.”
Van Dijk, who also has a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona to look forward to this week, added: “If you see the standard of strikers or playmakers we have in the league, it’s unbelievable.”
England international Sterling has been praised both for his on-field performances and a willingness to speak out about football’s continuing problems with racism.
Arsenal Women forward Vivianne Miedema won the Women’s Player of the Year award after scoring 22 times to lead the Gunners to their first title since 2012, with her and Van Dijk completing a Dutch double.
The north London side were crowned champions with a 4-0 win away to Brighton on Sunday.
Miedema was also nominated for the Young Player of the Year award won by Manchester City forward Georgia Stanway.
Miedema said: “I’m obviously really proud to represent my team here. I think we’ve had an amazing year, especially with winning the league today.”
Meanwhile, the PFA’s special achievement award went to Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton.
The 31-year-old defender is set to skipper the Lionesses at this year’s World Cup in France.
But Houghton has said she could miss the tournament in order to care for her husband, former Liverpool midfielder Stephen Darby, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year.
Darby, however, is determined Houghton takes her place in manager Phil Neville’s squad.