The Netherlands international is set to be one of the hottest properties in the summer transfer window, with several Premier League sides interested
“I think he could play for Barcelona, I think he could play for Real Madrid – it wouldn’t surprise me if he took his career on to those pathways.”
The above comment could have been made about any number of players ahead of the summer transfer window, with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Marco Verratti and Kylian Mbappe having generated talk of interest from La Liga’s heavyweight duo.
They are, however, the words of former Celtic manager Neil Lennon and the subject of his effusive praise is none other than Virgil van Dijk.
Gerrard wants Van Dijk at Liverpool
He wasn’t done there either, with the man who brought the Dutch defender to Britain for just £2.6 million in June 2013 going on to tell Sky Sports: “I believe he could play at any club side in Europe now – he’s that good. He has got everything you want from a modern-day centre-half: he’s powerful, he’s quick, technically brilliant, he reads the game well, superb in the air.”
That is some billing, but Lennon’s opinion is now being shared by club bosses across Europe – particularly those who have seen Van Dijk week in, week out in the Premier League over the last two seasons.
It is surprising, given that he is now very much flavour of the month, that Southampton were one of few clubs to show any real interest in the classy centre-half before bringing him south of the border for £13 million in 2015.
That deal has been made to look like the shrewdest of investments, with the Saints set to either keep a prized asset on their books who is only going to get better in the years to come, or make a very healthy profit on yet another player moved on for big money after shining on the south coast.
There has been a steady production line of talent to come out of St Mary’s in recent years, with most of it heading north to join the ranks at Liverpool.
‘No shock City & Chelsea want Van Dijk’
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise to find that the Reds are among those to have expressed an interest in Van Dijk – albeit with their interest pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.
The 25-year-old has everything in his locker to suggest that he would be a resounding success at Anfield, as part of a system under Jurgen Klopp which embraces those with the ability to mix graft with guile.
Liverpool have come out and publicly stated an end to their pursuit of Van Dijk, after being accused of making an illegal approach, but that may not be the end of the matter – and there are certainly plenty of other clubs ready to make a move down the proper transfer avenues if those on Merseyside are indeed prepared to turn their attention elsewhere.
Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are all reported to have shot admiring glances in Van Dijk’s direction – although the Red Devils have put a deal in place for Victor Lindelof and the reigning Premier League champions have reportedly also become embroiled in a tapping-up saga.
If a formal approach is made, though, then expect a frantic scramble for his signature to be sparked.
Van Dijk boasts everything that leading sides across Europe could want from a centre-half, with Lennon right to suggest that he is the complete package.
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Rather than being a ball-playing defender or a ‘kick it, head it’ no-nonsense type, the Netherlands international has shaped his game to bring a bit of everything to the party.
When there is a need to find row Z, he will happily stick the ball there, but if required to play out from the back, then he is also more than capable of doing that while keeping things simple – are you making notes at the back, John Stones?
Despite seeing his 2016-17 campaign cut short by ligament damage in his foot which required surgery in January, Van Dijk was still able to post numbers which place him among the Premier League elite when it comes to duel success, aerial challenges, tackle success and clearances – in fact, nobody bettered his per-90 minute figures when it comes to aerial winners per game.
It is, however, when spreading the net a little wider to incorporate his entire two-year stint in the England that his consistency across the defensive board is truly highlighted.
Of those to have made 40-plus appearances in that time, Van Dijk’s duel success rate of 71.58 is untouched at the top of the charts, while only two players have contested more aerial battles, just four fellow defenders have made more clearances, while his tackle success figures are competitive at around the 75 per cent mark and his passing accuracy comes in at just over 83 per cent.
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He is the archetypal all-rounder and a man described by Southampton team-mate Ryan Bertrand in an interview with Goal as: “Number one in the Premier League. Even going into the Champions League clubs, he is one of the best and right up there for me.”
Those at his current club love him. Those at just about every other club in the English top-flight love him.
Something may have to give this summer, but a £70m asking price is more than manageable for those reported to be in the running, while such a fee would allow Southampton to go out and find a successor at a fraction of the price. And then, who knows, maybe they can once again double their money by selling to Liverpool in a couple of years.