Time stands still for Van Dijk at Celtic

HAVING watched his switch from Groningen to Celtic go like clockwork, Virgil van Dijk now knows what makes the Scottish champions tick.

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Virgil van Dijk celebrates his fine solo goal against St Johnstone on Boxing Day with team-mate Kris Commons
Virgil van Dijk celebrates his fine solo goal against St Johnstone on Boxing Day with team-mate Kris Commons

So the Dutch defender doesn't allow himself to be wound up by speculation that, after just seven months at Parkhead, time could be about to be called on his career in Hoops.

Arsenal and Manchester City are listed among the clubs reputed to be zeroing in on Van Dijk, whose valuation appears to be increasing by the minute.

The 22-year-old who cost just £2.5million is now being mentioned in the £10m bracket.

Certainly, Van Dijk does fit the business model which Celtic have in place: A young player who has been given a platform on which to develop, improve and launch himself towards a much bigger stage.

The displays he has consistently delivered since overcoming his initial acclimatisation issues are being watched as closely by admiring scouts as they are by delighted Celtic supporters.

And, even if Dutch national coach, Louis van Gaal, is yet to be convinced Van Dijk is ready for a call-up to his World Cup squad, most others who watch him strut his stuff in almost-imperious style week in, week out, are already convinced he is the real deal.

On the pitch, he operates with his head up, spots situations developing, and takes the necessary action to remain in control.

Away from the field, the same modus operandi is in use.

So, the man Neil Lennon

believes can challenge Kris Commons for the Player of the Year awards this season has a quick - and appropriate - response to anyone who raises the subject of his stop in this country being short-term.

As he watches his club work feverishly to try and recruit the players Lennon believes he needs to give the injection of quality required to get them through next summer's Champions League qualifiers and become competitive again in the group stage, Van Dijk said: "I hope I am going to be central to the manager's plans to rebuild.

"It's getting better for me every week now. I play every game, and that's the most important thing for me.

"There are a lot of new players at the club, and they have to prove themselves, asI did.

"I'm in the team already, so I am enjoying myself."

Despite his long-term view of life as a Bhoy, Van Dijk continues to be linked with a quick exit.

His laid-back style of play - not seen in this country since Alan Hansen caught the eye of Liverpool as he cut his teeth with Partick Thistle - does look ready-made for the English Premier League.

But he could easily become lost at a club like Arsenal or Manchester City, and is aware the grass is not always greener than the stuff he is playing on so well at Celtic Park.

He recently told a leading Dutch football magazine: "It's fantastic that such top teams are being linked to you.

"I haven't spoken with anyone yet, but it's always a good sign.

"However, I'm enjoying it here at Celtic. The first six months were fantastic."

Van Dijk did add that no door can ever be completely closed, and said: "In football, everything is possible.

"What I know is I'm in a good place here at Celtic and that feels excellent."

The comparisons with the turnaround of Victor Wanyama are already being presented.

The Kenyan midfielder was plucked from relative obscurity at Belgian club Beerschot, for a very modest £900,000.

Wanyama was considered a good midfielder who could be converted into an excellent central defender.

However, after taking a few months to adjust to the pace of the game here, it was established he

could become a superb midfield force.

And the subsequent £12.5m sale to Southampton two years after he arrived at Celtic Park franked this opinion.

Although he strides forward with consummate ease, even setting himself up for wonder goals, like the one against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, Van Dijk knows his position is at the back.

It is from there he will continue to make his name - and, eventually, Celtic a huge profit.

For all the confidence that oozes from his tall, athletic frame, Van Dijk recognises he is not the finished article, and is prepared to work to fill in the gaps.

He may have to wait until the Champions League comes around again to measure his improvement, and being involved in heavy defeats to Barcelona and Milan at the end of this season's group stage campaign reminded him how far he has to go.

But all the indications are he appreciates the education he is getting as a Celt, and is looking forward to collecting the first winner's medals of his professional career.

The sticky early weeks in the Hoops - when he picked up a knock which hampered his integration and handicapped his desire to make an instant impression - are not forgotten.

But, rather than dwell on them, Van Dijk is putting the lessons learned to good use.

He said: "It was a difficult start for me with the injury. Since then, I think everything has gone well and I've played a lot of games.

"There is a big difference between playing for my old club and playing for Celtic because, as a Celtic player, you are expected always to win and to be champions.

"At my old club, that was not the case.

"I need to score more goals. But that is the only thing that can get better."

With the desire Celtic are showing to get over the line in the title race as quickly as possible, the chances are Van Dijk will be presented with a few more opportunities to hone his scoring skills.

If that is added to his accomplished defending, which has been a major contributory factor in the club's current clean sheet run, it will, indeed, be total football from the Dutchman.

Football

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