For Van Dijk, the future looks bright but it is not yet Oranje
Ronald de Boer explains why Celtic defender is yet to receive passing marks in his homeland
THERE are questions being asked in Holland about Virgil van Dijk. Yes, he’s a decent footballer, but can he really play football? The Dutch are funny that way. For them, unlike us, there is little of worth in a centre-half’s ability to boot the ball into Row Z of the stand when the opposition pose a threat or emerge from a 50-50 challenge with part of the centre-forward’s eyeball hanging off the end of his studs.
They like passing the ball to each other. They like Cruyff turns. They are still wrapped up in all that 1970s stuff about players being comfortable in all positions of the park.
Van Dijk has attracted plenty of interest through his displays for Celtic since arriving from Groningen in the summer of 2013 and has a bit of all that in his locker, but the raging debate over whether he should have gone to the World Cup with his national team has yet to result in him getting a cap.
Likewise, for all the talk of Arsenal and Manchester City, he is still at Parkhead. Offers of £8m and upwards have been mooted, yet the odds remain in favour of him still being in Glasgow when the transfer window closes.
There is, then, a clear incentive for him to use this Sunday’s showdown with Rangers as a platform. If you can keep a cool head, put your foot on the ball and stroke it around with ease amid the blood and thunder of an Old Firm game, your agent really does have something special to add to your CV.
Many have tried it. Plenty have failed. Obvious questions can be asked about the quality of the Rangers team that will serve as the opposition at Hampden Park, but this is a game to test the mettle of any man and to win it through ball-playing rather than battling would be something to take note of, indeed.
“In Holland, we have some doubts about Virgil,” explained the former Rangers forward Ronald de Boer. “Some people say he should get a chance with the national team. Some people still have doubts. Others say that Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord should buy him. In Holland, people still question his skills on the ball. Over there, it is important to keep the ball and play it to a jersey of the same colour. It is not just about defending, but his all-round game.
“That is what I heard and I can’t comment too much because I have not seen him regularly, but he is doing well and he is on the radar. There are doubters out there. I think he has potential to make the next step in Europe. Celtic, of course, are still a big club, but I think he can succeed in the Premiership.”
In de Boer’s mind, proving he can handle the high-octane atmosphere of an Old Firm encounter is something that would add to van Dijk’s attractiveness to bigger clubs, no matter what they may think of the general standard of the game in this country.
He played in countless BarcelonaReal Madrid match-ups, he played in two World Cups, he went with Ajax into the bearpit of Feyenoord’s De Kuip in Rotterdam. None of that compares to experiences against Celtic during four years at Ibrox.
“I played in El Clasico and AjaxFeyenoord and that is crazy, but there is no comparison with the Old Firm game,” he said. “It has so much more emotion in it. I wouldn’t say the football is better. It definitely isn’t. However, the intensity is incredible and that makes it special. I adapted to it right away and I was never nervous, although a little nerves were good.
“I had played in World Cups and big games. When you are 21, it might have
WORLD AT HIS FEET: Virgil van Dijk’s stellar performances for Celtic have earned rave reviews here but his ball-playing skills need to improve to impress Dutch observers.