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.

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