Empire of the Kop spoke to The Celtic Star’s David Faulds about Virgil van Dijk, the favourite for this season and a former Bhoys hero.
His answers are terrific and very eye-opening.
We urge you to give it a read!
It turns out they knew how good he was all along – just nobody else did.
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What were your first impressions of Virgil van Dijk when Celtic acquired him from the Dutch league? Was it instantaneously obvious what you were dealing with?
Every football fan has their opinions on players and new arrivals at a club are always watched very carefully. Henrik Larsson when he arrived made a couple of errors which cost Celtic points early in his Celtic career, but that worked out just fine, although we didn’t see it coming at the time. But with Virgil Van Dijk the Celtic support couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing and I remember conversations when supporters would be questioning their own judgment, failing to fully believe just how good this guy actually was.
Kelvin Wilson had settled in at Celtic as a very decent central defender but when he wanted to return to England it opened the door for Virgil and with all respect to Wilson, he was quickly forgotten about. Virgil looked like the perfect defender, he was tall, athletic, skilful, he could organise those around him and make them look better players – he made Jason Denayer look like a superstar and he got the Scottish Young Player of the Year when playing alongside Van Dijk for the season he was on loan from Manchester City.
Yet while it was obvious to the Celtic support others had their doubts. Holland didn’t select him for the 2014 World Cup and the Sky pundit and former Celtic player Davie Provan reckoned that no English Premier League side would be prepared to spend £10million on him.
Personally, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – he was just so good. A Rolls Royce of a footballer, the best defender I’d ever seen playing the game. When you said that when talking about a guy playing in the Scottish Premier League, as it was then, then you know yourself that you’re sounding rather silly, but big Virgil has gone on to prove us right all along, and Davie Provan is often reminded about his newspaper column deriding the big Dutchman.
Do you regret selling him for just £15m? The fact he went to Southampton suggests the very big clubs were not willing to take the risk on his services – how come?
The English seem to have a strange opinion of Scottish football. Celtic have always done very well against English sides we’ve met in European football, and usually against the odds. Liverpool of course will remember losing 2-0 to Celtic in the UEFA Cup Quarter Final at Anfield in 2003. In recent seasons Celtic have sold the likes of Tierney, Van Dijk, Wanyama, Forster, Armstrong and before that the likes of Petrov, Viduka and Ki Sung-Yeung to English football. All were good buys. Moussa Dembele could be heading to Manchester Utd from Celtic via Lyon in January. All of these players have provided great value for money so shopping in Scotland seems sensible, yet is often dismissed.
Liverpool broke my very young heart in 1977 when they signed Kenny Dalglish for just £440,000 and what a player you got! Yet you guys didn’t see it in Van Dijk until he went to Southampton. That was a costly mistake but even at the huge fee Liverpool had to pay, you still got great value for money.
I can’t be too critical of Liverpool though as I recall a telephone conversation with someone ‘closely connected’ with Celtic who stated that the club’s bosses were happy with the price they’d got from Southampton – around £13million. He mentioned a lack of concentration and a weakness of his left hand side and I was saying to him, “are you mad? He’s the best defender we’ve ever had and you’re selling him to Southampton for just £13million! ”
We’ve seen loads of highlight clips when VVD used to slam in freekicks north of the border – and notice he hit double figures one season for Celtic! Tell us about this set-piece genius – we have rarely seen it!
Virgil scored a free-kick in a Scottish Cup semi-final that should have won us the match and probably a Treble. But a referee, linesman and one of those other officials standing behind the goal all conveniently missed a handball on the goal-line to stop a certain second goal. It was actually a decent save from the defender. That was probably Virgil’s best free-kick and he did score quite a few, as I say a Rolls Royce of a player. Just perfect.
Incidentally, Celtic are a much bigger club than Southampton and with a decent income for TV we’d give the big clubs in England a run for their money. Liverpool are particularly impressive at the moment though.
Will there be a sense of pride if VVD wins the upcoming Ballon d’Or? What specific part of his development did Celtic improve? Did any coach play a big role?
I think Virgil discovered what it’s like to play for a big club in his time at Celtic and that led him to Liverpool. At that time there was no Rangers in the league, they’d gone bust in 2012 and were liquidated. The phoenix club started in the bottom tier so the top league was less intense and he missed out on that rivalry. He did play against the new Rangers in a Scottish League Cup semi-final in February 2015 – the first meeting between the two clubs – and he was outstanding. He went on a run from defence and a Rangers player tried to tackle and bounced off him. It was actually quite comical.
Anyway his Celtic big club experience led him to Liverpool, with all respect to Southampton it’s just not the same as Paradise or Anfield with the fans’ passion and the amazing atmospheres.
Yes there will be a huge sense of pride among the Celtic support if VVD wins the Ballon d’Or – and he’ll certainly deserve it. He remains hugely popular with the Celtic support and alongside Andy Robertson, and the way your team plays the game, Most Celtic fans have a soft spot for Liverpool these days. It’s mostly been that way over the decades.
And finally – who’s the next VVD coming out of Celtic, or Scotland?
No comment! Seriously, we have a young French striker Odsonne Edouard who has just broken into the French Under 21 side this season and has scored 9 goals in three and a half games. The French press are now raving about him, calling him ’The Killer’. We sold Dembele to Lyon for £20million in a rush – as he’s called out your old boss Brendan Rodgers for being a hypocrite, and he’ll be heading to Old Trafford for at least double that sum, maybe as much as £50million. Yet, Odsonne Edouard is better, much better. Lyon will probably try to sign him if Dembele does go to Man Utd but Celtic are trying to organise a new contract at the moment.
In terms of central defence we signed Christopher Jullien from Toulouse for £7million in July and he looks a little bit like VVD, he’s maybe only 70% as good as the Dutchman but that still make him some player! And we have Kristoffer Ajer, the young Norwegian international who has been linked with teams in Germany, Italy and England and looks a real prospect. I’d rate him as 80% as good as VVD.