Premier League • England

‘The best of all time’ – Michael Owen in astonishing brag over Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk celebrates victory after the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match at Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal

Michael Owen has branded Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk the best defender he’s ever seen after witnessing Jurgen Klopp’s side reach their third Champions League final in five seasons.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were forced to dig deep against Villarreal to reach the Paris-staged final. That’s after two first-half goals saw the Spaniards wipe out Liverpool’s 2-0 first-leg lead. But the introduction of Luis Diaz changed everything for the Reds. He deservedly topped our Player Ratings, ensuring the Reds won 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate.

The reuslt means Liverpool will face one of Man City or Real Madrid in next month’s final. Reds talisman Mohamed Salah has made it perfectly clear which team he fancies facing.

It also keeps them on course for an unprecedented quadruple, though City are obvious obstacles in the Premier League and in Europe.

Discussing just how good this current Liverpool crop is before the game, Owen had no doubts that Van Dijk deserves huge plaudits.

His £75m signing from Southampton in January 2018 is seen as the major catalyst for the Reds’ recent success.

And Owen believes the Dutchman may well be the greatest defender he’s seen in his lifetime.

Assessing the player, Rio Ferdinand stated Van Dijk “is the best centre-back on the planet right now, easy”.

Former Liverpool striker Owen took it further by claiming: “Well I’d go further. I think he’s the best centre-half of all time.”

Asked to explain his reasoning – and why he’s better than the man he’s stood next to in Ferdinand – Owen continued.

Owen explains his thinking

“He [Rio] probably scored a few more goals, not much, but we’re talking about the greatest here.

“As I’ve said, Rio was the best centre-half I ever played with. But with Van Dijk, as a centre-forward I look at him and think: what do you do against him?

“He’s bigger than everyone, he’s faster than everyone, he’s stronger than everyone. He’s brilliant on the ball, he scores goals. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“The only thing that goes against Van Dijk at the moment – and I stress, at the moment – is his winners’ medals. He’s only won one Premier League and one Champions League.

“People like Rio and [Paolo] Maldini and [Franco] Baresi and people like that who you might consider the greatest, they’ve all got numerous. So that’s the only thing that goes against him.

“But as a one off, I look at him and think: how can you get any better than that?”

So, is Van Dijk the greatest of all time? Our opinion

The Reds defender is, quite rightly, regarded as one of the best the Premier League has seen. Alongside the more decorated John Terry, Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, there is no doubting he deserves highlighting in the same company.

As an individual player, Ferdinand is right to name him as the best in the world right now.

But does Owen’s claim about him being the greatest ever actually stand up?

Certainly as an opposing striker, there are no harder tests than Van Dijk. And with a growing medals list, those claims can now be backed up.

It’s one that divides opinion, but for the sheer longevity, I’d argue Paolo Maldini as the greatest of all time.

Not only did he have the style and grace, he also had a bucket load of honours to back up those claims too.

However, I’d go halfway between what Owen and Ferdinand are saying, and claim that Van Dijk is perhaps the greatest defender of this generation, or the last 25 years.

One thing that can be said with certainty, for all the brilliance Liverpool have enjoyed on the transfer front in recent seasons, there are no better signings than the £75m paid to Saints for Van Dijk over four years ago.

The defender himself has also reacted to such claims himself, explaining how he’s had to work his way to the top of his profession.