Virgil van Dijk has found Paradise with Celtic

VIRGIL van Dijk today hailed his first season as a Celic player as "fantastic".

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Virgil van Dijk enjoyed facing Barcelona in the Champions League but red card at Aberdeen was a disappointment
Virgil van Dijk enjoyed facing Barcelona in the Champions League but red card at Aberdeen was a disappointment

The 22-year-old joined the Hoops on a £2.6million switch from Groningen last summer and has gone on to become a firm favourite with the Parkhead faithful.

Stand-out performances in the SPFL Premiership and in the Champions League, where he shone against the cream of the continent, have earned him rave reviews.

The cultured defender was also shortlisted for the PFA Scotland Premiership Player of the Year award won by team-mate Kris Commons.

Although Van Dijk is under contract until 2017, such has been the impact of the Dutch defensive maestro that his agent recently suggested the player is now on the radar of the two Manchester clubs - City and United - who value his ball-playing central defensive qualities in the £10million bracket.

Yet, with the first-ever SPFL Premiership already wrapped up by Celtic, Van Dijk also revealed his mind is fully focused on playing a key part in today's revenge mission against Aberdeen.

The Dons ended the unbeaten league run of Neil Lennon's men with a 2-1 win at Pittodrie and then knocked the Hoops out of the William Hill Scottish Cup at Parkhead.

But Van Dijk preferred to focus on the positives of his first season in Paradise.

He said: "We have had a good season, becoming champions, and I played in the Champions League against some big clubs.

"Those European games were amazing for me. We didn't do well, but as a young player coming from a smaller club in Holland, it was amazing to come to a big club like Celtic and play against the likes of Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan. So it was unbelievable and that's what I enjoyed the most."

A laid-back sort, Van Dijk believes he has matured as a person and improved as a player thanks to his adventures living the Bhoyhood dream.

He said: "I'm definitely a better player now. I'm a more mature guy as well and have learned a lot this year.

"The start was a little bit tough because I was injured and that is not good for a new player at a club.

"The Champions League qualifier against Shakhter away was also not so good. After that start, though, everything went well.

"My team-mates have helped me become better as well. This is a totally different style of football to what I was used to.

'Normally, we have about 80 per cent of the ball in a game. With my old club Groningen, we were the team who were doing all the defending."

The Dutchman was in no doubt about the importance of his first foray into the Champions League as a key part of his improvement.

Van Dijk said: "I've also taken a lot of experience from the Champions League games and will benefit from that.

"We didn't do well, particularly the games against Ajax and Barcelona away. But I know we have the capability to compete."

Turning his attention to this afternoon's encounter with Derek McInnes's Aberdeen side, Van Dijk says he is hungry for revenge.

He said: "They broke our unbeaten record in a strange game. I think they were the only team this season who made it a hard game for us.

"We have to be ready for them because it will be a hard game again. But we were bad against them in the Scottish Cup game and then, away in the league, I got a red card and we were unlucky.

"I think everyone here wants to get some revenge and win the game, so we can show we are the champions and above everyone."

While Celtic manager Lennon has already snapped up Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen with a view to this summer's Champions League qualification campaign, Van Dijk said there is still scope to take things to another level.

He said: "I think we have a great squad with a lot of good players. It's difficult to say what we need. As I said, we have good players, but there is always room for improvement and extra quality."

But Van Dijk swerved any speculation that he could be a summer target for an English Premiership giant.

He said: "You never know what will happen in football. If I play Champions League next year, that will be amazing and what I want to do.

"So we'll see. I still have a contract until 2017. You never know what will happen in the future."

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