Celtic ace Virgil's van-tage point

IT WAS Virgil van Dijk's very own Yvonne Fair moment as he watched Ajax compete in the Europa League knockout rounds and mused to himself:

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Skipper Scott Brown clearly had a point to make to Virgil van Dijk and his Celtic team-mates before they began their training session at Lennoxtown
Skipper Scott Brown clearly had a point to make to Virgil van Dijk and his Celtic team-mates before they began their training session at Lennoxtown

"It Should Have Been Me."

But the Seventies singer's soul classic might be about to get played again in the defender's mind when the World Cup finals kick off in Brazil this summer.

The Dutchman has had an outstanding debut season at Celtic, carrying him to his first championship medal and propelling him into the thoughts of scouts and managers up and down the UK.

However, for all the 22-year-old has impressed with his imperious style of play, Holland boss Louis van Gaal appears to remain oblivious to his claims for a call-up to the Dutch squad which is heading for Rio.

Now, with just five SPFL Premiership fixtures to fulfil, Van Dijk is resigning himself to another watching brief when his countrymen take on the best in the world.

It was a similar disappointment when Celtic failed to capitalise on a good start to their Champions League group stage fixtures this season.

The win over Ajax on Match Day Three, allied to their performances in the opening games against AC Milan and Barcelona, suggested they would be competing in either the last 16 or, at worst, the Europa League after Christmas.

But a collapse which began in Amsterdam the very next match, and continued into the home game against Milan and the mauling in the Nou Camp, left van Dijk and his team-mates with only regrets about what might have been.

These feelings will be reinforced again next week as they tune in to watch the latter stages of the two European competitions.

In typically Dutch laid-back style, Van Dijk is tholing it better than most of his team-mates, and said: "I enjoy it. The bigger teams are getting ready for the semi-finals and it is amazing to see.

"It was hard when we were knocked out. We had to watch Ajax playing in the Europa League and think that we could have been there, but I am enjoying the tournament now."

The focus of Neil Lennon and his players has already turned to what is, for them, the equivalent of the Champions League final - getting into and through the play-offs for the group stage.

The tough road begins again on July 16, and Van Dijk trusts he will be better prepared this time around for this particular emotional rollercoaster.

He was only just in the Parkhead door when they embarked on the most significant six matches of their season, starting with games against Cliftonville and ­Elfsborg before culminating in a dramatic double-header against Kazakhstan champions, Shakhter Karagandy.

The 2-0 defeat in the away leg left Celtic facing the very real prospect of capitulating just a matter of months after playing in the last 16.

However, a late third goal in the return game from James Forrest kept their dreams alive, and Van Dijk can now happily reflect on the first time he felt the special atmosphere which big European nights can generate at Celtic Park.

It marked the beginning of a memorable first season in the Hoops, one which has had many highlights.

"It has been a great season so far, and it is amazing how quickly it has gone," he said.

"I think the Champions League games, as well as being champions, of course, has been the most enjoyable aspect of it.

"The most beautiful thing that happened this season was getting to the group stage in the game against Shakhter Karagandy.

"I only played about 10 seconds at the end of that game, but it was an amazing feeling and I will never forget it.

"It was a moment in which I started to feel like a Celtic player, and the moment I saw the fans go crazy. It was just an amazing night."

At that stage, Van Dijk was still adapting to the game here. But the man signed from FC Groningen has developed at a speed no-one could have predicted, perhaps even himself.

He said: "This is the best I've settled after a year at a new club, and I have already been nominated for the PFA Scotland award and named in the Premiership team of the season.

"That's a great thing and I am very happy about it as I was never nominated when I played in Holland."

Fortunately for Van Dijk, van Gaal does not have a vote in the Player of the Year awards here.

He is proving a tough nut to crack in terms of accepting an invitation to join the Van Dijk fan club.

And, with the Dutch squad for the World Cup finals being finalised, an air of resignation is apparent when the defender turns to the subject of missing the finals.

He said: "Every player dreams of going to the World Cup, and I certainly do. But I have had no invitation as yet, so that means there is nothing to be hopeful about.

"I definitely want to go and I will go under any circumstances. It doesn't matter if it is because someone else has missed out.

"But I haven't been invited to any of the [qualifying or warm-up] games. So, if I am not going, I'll just head off on holiday to rest and get ready for next season."

Van Dijk is more animated when asked if he believes he deserves to at least be given the opportunity to show he can play at international level.

The former Dutch Under-21 player said: "I think I should be given a chance, definitely. That is my opinion. Everyone has their own thoughts and the coach's ones are the most important.

"People in Holland are saying I should get an opportunity, but they are not the most important people to be saying that. If the coach doesn't invite me, it is not going to happen."


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