NEIL Lennon thought that Virgil Van Dijk must have had an eye missing or something else wrong with him when he first saw the Dutchman in action for other clubs not to have snapped him up.

Their loss was very much Lennon and Celtic’s gain, and while the Northern Irishman now finds himself back in the Celtic Park dugout, Van Dijk has gone on to establish himself as the best defender in the world with Liverpool and The Netherlands.

That is certainly Lennon’s view after watching his former player dominate a world-class striker like Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski last week in the Allianz Arena as Liverpool reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, with the world-record fee of £75million that the Anfield side paid for the ex-Celt now looking like a snip.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was watching the footage,” Lennon said. “You know when you watch players on video, you are thinking ‘there’s got to be something wrong with this kid, he’s got to have an eye missing or something like that.

“He just looked like Rio Ferdinand. He’s galloping from defence through the midfield, playing one-twos, joining in the attacks, recovering, heading the ball in both boxes, and you’re thinking ‘wow’

“You go and see him, and you are looking around to see if there’s any other scouts there, and then you get him in and you think ‘what a player’. It was a brilliant bit of business by the club and by the agent, for us anyway.

“[Johann] Mjallby went then I went, watched him against Ajax. They lost that day, but we’d seen more than enough by then.

“It might’ve been the pathway the agent wanted to take - come to Celtic first and establish himself in the British game then move on, but whatever they’ve done it’s been the right pathway for him. He’s been well-managed. But he could’ve made the leap from Groningen to the Premier League no problem.

“He’s calm. But he’s not arrogant. I never thought he was big-headed in any way. Just a really good well-grounded individual. He knew how good he was but wasn’t blase about it. When you see him being interviewed now he’s the same Virgil he was four or five years ago.

“I agree that he is the best defender in the world. I don’t see anyone better than him. Again, you saw his qualities during the week.

“I saw him at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago and he dominated the game. He makes it look so easily, he does everything so cleanly. It’s not easy.

“Defensively the other night he was excellent against Lewandowski, who isn’t bad by the way, and then see what he brings to you attacking set plays.

“Is there anyone better? I’m not so sure. You could talk about Thiago Silva maybe at PSG, but in terms of everything he brings to the game, he is right up there.”

While Lennon was surprised to be able to bring Van Dijk to Celtic back in 2013, he would certainly not be surprised to see him move on to one of the world’s super-clubs.

“He just reads the game so well,” he said.

“He’s up there with any of them over the years. You could compare him to Alan Hansen. They are different types obviously because Virgil is a more physical specimen, but Hansen could read the game and was brilliant on the ball playing in a good team.

“He has made Liverpool better, there is no question about that. He’s playing every game the way we knew he could, and he has now gone up a level. He’s adjusted to it brilliantly.

“He’s like a Rolls-Royce. I’m surprised no one took him earlier, and none of the bigger clubs than Southampton took him, but it was smart from them and now it’s smart from Liverpool.

“He could play for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and it wouldn’t be a problem. The pressures are different, but he could adapt to that no problem.

“You could double what Liverpool paid for him. It’s Liverpool’s gain and there must be a lot of people out there kicking themselves about not doing it quicker. Because the difference between Liverpool now and what they were defensively before is night and day. He’ll just keep going, I think. Where his career will take him who knows? I’m sure he’ll want the Champions League and the Premier League. But there’s no stopping him, really.”

Meanwhile, Lennon has received a boost in the build-up to this afternoon’s trip to Dundee as he revealed that Leigh Griffiths may be seen in a Celtic jersey before the end of the season after meeting with the striker last week.

Lennon says that the frontman, who is currently taking time away from the game to deal with mental health problems, was looking good as he met up with his new boss.

And while he is still some way away from a first-team comeback as he looks to catch up with his teammates in a physical sense, Lennon is encouraged by Griffiths’ determination to get back into the Celtic fold.

“I met him on Monday,” Lennon said. “I’m optimistic about seeing him back before the end of the season.

“He looked OK and looked reasonable condition. He’s got a bit of work to do to catch up with the rest. That’s what we’re hoping will happen over the coming weeks.

“I don’t want to talk about private things but he’s obviously itching to get back. It’ll take a bit of time but hopefully we’ll see him before the end of the season. If you can get him fit and firing you’ve got a top-quality centre-forward.

“It’s down to him now. Part of his recovery is that he does it step by step but he’s doing it so hopefully we can get him back doing what he’s good at as quickly as possible.

“You have to look at the human side as well sometimes, they’re not robots. They all have frailties in their own make-ups. I’m looking at the team last weekend and they looked leggy and I understand that.

“There was always going to be a bit of a lull. So hopefully we’re over that and we’ll see the power and the pazazz of Celtic again going forward.”