Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk grinned on the Ballon d'Or red carpet as he made a quick joke about Cristiano Ronaldo.
Juventus and Portugal forward Ronaldo did not attend the 2019 Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris on Tuesday (AEDT), an absence which was touched on by an RTL7 reporter during an interview with van Dijk.
"Cristiano won't be here, so that's already one rival less," the reporter pointed out to the Dutchman on the red carpet.
"Was he a rival, then?" van Dijk jokingly replied with a smile.
Van Dijk has since taken to social media to defend himself for the jibe against British journalist Piers Morgan, who tweeted that the defender is "not in his [Ronaldo's] league".
"Hi Piers, If you don’t jump on the social media bandwagon and would listen to the whole interview then you would know I made a joke, and only got respect for those 2," the 28-year-old replied.
Van Dijk finished in second place, one above Ronaldo, in the Ballon d'Or voting but both players lost out to Barcelona's Lionel Messi who won the prestigious award for a record sixth time.
Van Dijk's Liverpool teammates Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah finished fourth and fifth respectively.