Virgil van Dijk should not be considered better than Lionel Messi even if he does win the Ballon d'Or, according to former Netherlands star Rafael van der Vaart.
Liverpool star Van Dijk is among the favourites for the world's top individual prizes after an outstanding 2019, helping the Reds to win the Champions League last season in Madrid.
If he was to take home the gong, Van Dijk would be the first defender to win the Ballon d'Or since Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
But Van der Vaart, Van Dijk's countryman, claims a defender's importance to his team can see them rewarded for an outstanding year even if they do not match up to five-time winner Messi.
Asked if a defender could win the coveted award, Van der Vaart told reporters: "Yeah, of course. Why not?
"You can't compare players. If you choose a defender, it doesn't mean he is better than Messi. You have to see what he wins, how important he is for his own team. We will see what happens."
Netherlands has two of European football's foremost centre-backs, with Matthijs de Ligt having left Ajax for Juventus in the close season.
The 20-year-old endured a tough Bianconeri debut in a 4-3 win over Napoli, but Van der Vaart expects him to prove his worth.
"He could have played somewhere else - Bayern Munich or maybe for Barcelona - and now he's had a difficult start at Juventus," the former Real Madrid midfielder said.
"It's not easy - [Giorgio] Chiellini is injured now, it's going to be difficult for him, but he has so much talent.
"He also played two games for the national team and was by far the best man on the pitch [in the past week]. He's a great talent."
And Van der Vaart is hopeful of a bright future for Netherlands under head coach Ronald Koeman.
He added: "We are lucky that we have so many good talents at the moment, with De Ligt, [Frenkie] De Jong, Van Dijk, some special players.
"[Koeman] is a guy who brought stability to the team. You can see everyone likes to play for Netherlands again and, for a long time, it was not like that."