“Celtic was there” – Virgil van Dijk’s compliments for “massive Celtic”

Former Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk has been speaking about Celtic in conversation with Gary Lineker and Micah Richards on the Rest Is Football Podcast. The Liverpool and Netherlands captain talked about his reasons for joining the Hoops in the summer of 2013.

Van Dijk also discussed his one and only experience of a Glasgow Derby in the League Cup semi-final in February 2015 and revealed that Glasgow will always have a special place in his heart.

A fee of £2.6m

Back in 2013 the three leading sides in Dutch football all turned their noses up at the then Groningen central defender before Neil Lennon swooped to sign VVD for a fee of £2.6m. And the Liverpool Champions League winner has no regrets at all about making the decision to move to Scottish football.

“It was time for me to make that the next step. I left with my wife at the moment and obviously things are different. You are away from your family, you are on your own, it’s a different culture and language,” Van Dijk said.

 Virgil van Dijk of Celtic FC  during the UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Celtic at the Camp Nou Stadium on December 11, 2013 in Barcelona. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

It prepared me for what came next

“But it’s not crazy different as Scotland and Holland is not like five or six hours away from where you lived before, but it was definitely a big change. We had our first kid in Glasgow and we really enjoyed it over there. It prepared me for what came next,” VVD said.

On that Glasgow Derby against theRangers, you will recall that during van Dijk’s time at Celtic the new club formed by Charles Green in 2012 was on it’s journey through the lower divisions of the Scottish game after having to start again as a new club in the fourth tier of the Scottish game. By the time the 2015 League Cup semi-final came about they had made it up through the bottom two tiers and were in the Championship.

The excitement was such at playing Celtic at Hampden in a league cup semi-final was such that the new club released a special commemorative t-shirt to mark the occasion. Celtic won 2-0 in a fairly unremarkable and one sided match where the scoreline certainly flatters theRangers.

They were in the Championship

“I played it once. They (theRangers) were in the Championship back then, they weren’t in the top-flight. We played a semi-final at Hampden and I would say the whole preparations and the meetings with police for example before the game to get you ready was more intense than the actual game. But it’s a special game.

“The city is divided with the two clubs and it’s amazing to have played it at least once. It’s an intense battle but at the time when I was there, it was more intense outside the game than the actual game. It was amazing, we really enjoyed it over there. We met some amazing people that we’re still in touch with. The city in general was very bubbly, it’s amazing. We just enjoyed it.

 SPFA player of the year nominees Virgil Van Dijk and Stefan Johansen of Celtic pose at the Scottish Premiership Player of the Year Awards Nominees photocall on April 23, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Holmes/Getty Images)

“Of course, you come across some fans of the other team but same goes here in Liverpool, we have the same in this regard. It’s still sort of respectful, in a way. The fans from the other team that you come across, they are very fanatic about their team but it’s still in a respectful way in the way they approach you.”

Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV

Van Dijk reckons that his time at Celtic was the perfect stage in his development and reckons people in the game don’t fully appreciate the size of club Celtic are. “I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I think the way to go to success is not to look too far ahead. Obviously, you have dreams but make yourself a lot more short-term aims. That was the case as well. When I was at Groningen, I would have loved to have gone to an Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV as well as they are the traditional top three in the league.

“It didn’t happen, but Celtic was there. To be able to go to Celtic to play for such a big club, because people don’t realise how massive Celtic is, but to play the Champions League first season, and Europa League second season, for me was the perfect development. Then, I felt ready for the next step and the next step in that case was Southampton.”

 Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool celebrates scoring his team’s first goal as he is filmed by the steady cam during the Carabao Cup Final match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley on February 25, 2024. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

75 per cent of possession

He added: “For me, the biggest difference was going from Holland to Scotland. I came to a team that had 75 per cent of possession with the ball, playing against teams that sit in and a lot of directness, a lot of challenges, that I wasn’t used to in Holland that much.

“Most of them were even games, ball possession games, so it was a big development in the way I played but something I needed and something that prepared me for coming to the Premier League where it was a lot more physical and faster in the pace of play.”

Classy guy is Big Virgil on and off the park.

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