Elko Born explains why it's only a matter of time before the big guns make their move for Celtic's highly-rated stopper...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: July 8, 1991
- Place of birth: Breda, Netherlands
- Height: 6ft 4in
- Position: Centre-back
- Current club: Celtic; 79 apps, 11 goals
- Former club: FC Groningen
- Honours: Scottish Premiership (2013/14)
Tall, strong and not someone to pick a fight with, Celtic's Virgil van Dijk is often compared to fellow Dutchman and former Manchester United player Jaap Stam.
The 23-year-old started his career in 2011 at Dutch side FC Groningen, and there he quickly made an impression. It was reported that Eredivisie sides like PSV Eindhoven were after him, but he was eventully snapped up by Celtic in 2013.
In Scotland, Van Dijk quickly developed into a vital first-team player. In the 2013/14 season, when Celtic faced teams like Barcelona and AC Milan in the Champions League, Van Dijk was more than able to hold his own against the likes of Lionel Messi and the Argentine's comrades.
Now the Netherlands international is regarded as one of the most talented defenders in the Scottish Premier League, leading to rumours linking him to clubs like Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United. Could a move to the Premier League be on the cards? The latest reports suggest Sunderland are lining up an £8 million bid.
Why you need to know him
In modern football, good centre-backs are a rare commodity, even at the biggest clubs. Take Manchester United, for example, who are still struggling to replace trusted duo Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic; or Barcelona, whose desperation to replace the retiring Carles Puyol eventually led them to Arsenal cast-off Thomas Vermaelen (who then got injured straight away).
No wonder, then, that whenever a talented young defender comes to attention, he usually immediately attracts the interest of big clubs. For Van Dijk, having shown that he can easily handle the Dutch Eredivisie and Scottish Premier League, he might be looking to make the next step sooner rather than later.
Take all of these factors into account and it’s seemed fairly inevitable all along that his name would be mentioned as soon as the transfer window opened.
Strong and fearless, Van Dijk rarely shies away from bombing forward with or without the ball at his feet. He likes to shoot on target as well, and when there’s a free-kick to be taken you can expect him to be among the first contending for the ball.
First and foremost, however, Van Dijk remains a centre-back who takes defending seriously. With his strength, even the most agile attackers can have difficulties getting past him, and at 6ft 4in tall, he isn't easily beaten in the air either.
When everything is going well, Van Dijk’s fearless attitude and ability to surge forward can really add something to his team. At other times, however, his tendency to take risks can be dangerous. When your centre-back has gone forward in an attempt to score a goal, who's there to defend possible counter-attacks?
Sure, Van Dijk has scored goals in Holland and in Scotland. But in a bigger league like the Premier League, he’d be up against tougher opposition, and a bit more tactical discipline would perhaps be needed.
“I don’t know how much better he can get, he has everything you would want in a modern-day centre-half,” said former Celtic manager Neil Lennon. “He’s quick, very good in the air and superb with the ball at his feet. He defends well in decent areas. He’s been faultless in more or less every game and his attitude has been fantastic. His application to training is fantastic as well.”
Did you know?
Although he didn’t actually get to play, Van Dijk was called up for Holland last year by Guus Hiddink, and as is traditional for new members of the Dutch national team, the defender had to give a dressing room speech before his first training session.
Normally the older players like to give the newbies a hard time about this, testing their resolve by laughing and booing a little bit, but Van Dijk managed to keep the Dutch veterans quiet by coming up with a heartfelt story about the birth of his first child.
If he can inspire his team-mates before even making his first appearance, who knows what leadership skills he’ll display with a bit more experience under his belt?
What happens next?
Good centre-backs are in demand, and Van Dijk certainly seems like the real deal. What’s more, he'll be looking to make the next step in his career sometime soon. It’s likely, then, that some of Europe’s bigger clubs will at least take a look at Celtic’s star defender, if not in January, then certainly this summer. They might do well to swoop sooner rather than later, though: Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger are hardly knee-deep in top-class centre-backs...