Virgil van Dijk is a winner. The Liverpool centre back wants to collect medals and accolades. His thirst for success is insatiable. The Dutchman went to the Champions League final in Cardiff in 2017 to watch Real Madrid dismantle Juventus 4-1. Van Dijk will always stand out in the crowd and fans swarmed around him. He was in the news. The then Southampton defender was in demand. Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea were all linked with Van Dijk. Scores of supporters made their opinion clear about which club they thought he should join. Dozens told him to go to Anfield. A handful exhorted him to head to the Etihad. A couple suggested that Stamford Bridge should be his next destination. Van Dijk took on board the supporters’ advice. He was always inclined to join Liverpool. The club’s history and the fervour of the Kop appealed to him. His experience at Celtic illustrated the importance of those factors to a player’s career. He was predisposed to play regularly at a ground where “You’ll Never Walk” alone was the anthem. The 28-year-old could not have imagined on that night in Cardiff that he would play in the next two Champions League finals, let alone win the second of those showpiece games. He probably never visualised that he would come second to Lionel Messi in Fifa ’s The Best men’s player of the year award this week. For a defender to come runner up to Barcelona’s genius is a magnificent achievement in itself. There can be no disappointment being ranked in the same echelon as the Argentinian. Defensive players rarely get the accolades they deserve. They are frequently ignored when individual prizes are handed out. Forwards and midfield players catch the eye and receive the majority of the praise. Van Dijk is an exception. He won the Professional Footballers’ Association and Uefa player of the year awards last season. The Dutchman is a must in any Liverpool best of all time side – alongside Nicol, a man whose exploits are too often overlooked The last time Liverpool had a defensive star who was publicly honoured for the consistent excellence of his performances was Steve Nicol in 1989 when the Scot was named the football writers’ player of the year in England. Nicol was different to Van Dijk in many ways. The centre back is a master of his craft, a man who marshals the back four and provides solid foundations for Jurgen Klopp’s team. Nicol was more versatile. He played almost every role in the team during his time at Anfield. While his best position was probably right back, Kenny Dalglish, his manager, shifted him around the side to fill in any gaps. We know just how good Van Dijk is – probably the best centre back in the world. Nicol is often forgotten, in part because of his ability to slot in anywhere. It is worth comparing him with two legendary players whose careers overlapped with the Scot. As a right back he was superior to Cafu, the brilliant Brazilian who impressed at Roma and Milan. The South American is eight years younger than Nicol, 57, and came to Europe during the Champions League era in the 1990s, when live televised football was much more accessible than in the previous decade. Armchair fans got to see him play regularly and it was easier to make a judgement about his ability. Cafu was probably a slightly better passer of the ball than the Scot but Nicol was quicker and a better defender. He could use the line in a way that has become a forgotten art. The Liverpool man, remarkably, was a much more potent attacking threat with a knack for scoring goals. Nicol was arguably even more majestic at left back, where he combined beautifully with John Barnes. Paolo Maldini is generally regarded as one of the best players in that position but as wonderful as the Milan superstar was, Nicol was better. Maldini had other qualities. His nickname “Il Capitano” points to his leadership qualities and the Italian’s ability to operate as a centre half make him one of the finest defenders in the game’s history. Van Dijk would be proud to be compared to the 51-year-old. To suggest that Nicol was even more outstanding than Maldini does not demean one of Italy’s most exceptional performers. Even on Merseyside, the Scot is sometimes overlooked when the lists of Liverpool greats are complied. The names of heroic defenders roll off the tongue – Ron Yeats, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson are all in the pantheon of Anfield greats. More recently Jamie Carragher cemented his place in history as much for the force of personality as his talent. In terms of full backs, Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy both scored vital goals in more than one European Cup final and had impressive longevity. The modern exponents of the position, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, have already achieved folk hero status. Yet Nicol ranks with the very best players in Liverpool history. Do not be fooled by his ability to play anywhere. He was much, much more than a utility player. He deserves to be remembered with the highest acclaim. Van Dijk will never be short of respect. While in a very different position to Messi, the comparison is legitimate because of the influence the two players have on their teams and on matches. The Dutchman is a must in any Liverpool best of all time side – alongside Nicol, a man whose exploits are too often overlooked.