CELTIC defender Virgil van Dijk believes the standard of the Scottish Premiership compares favourably with the Dutch Eredivisie and is confident his current environment will not hamper his international ambitions.
Van Dijk plans to watch the World Cup Finals draw tomorrow, just a few hours before Celtic look to maintain their unbeaten record in the Scottish top flight this season when they face Motherwell at Fir Park.
Despite a bright start to his career with the champions following his £2.6 million summer move from Groningen, the 22-year-old central defender has yet to force his way into Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal’s plans for next summer’s tournament in Brazil.
Ajax youngster Joel Veltman, who faced Celtic in the Champions League group stage this season, was preferred by van Gaal last month as he experimented with his defensive options in the challenge matches against Japan and Colombia.
But van Dijk is content that he is not disadvantaged by playing in Scotland, despite the perceptions of those who may feel he is not being fully extended in domestic competition where Celtic are so dominant.
The 7-0 demolition of Hearts at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup last Sunday would be regarded as proof of that theory by those who hold it. Van Dijk, however, insists it is no different to football in his homeland where large winning margins, such as the record 10-0 defeat PSV Eindhoven inflicted on Feyenoord three years ago, are not uncommon.
“Big scorelines does not mean the football is bad,” said van Dijk. “Not at all. Everyone from outside of the country talks badly about the competition, but you can look at the Dutch league and say it’s not that good either. The leagues are quite similar.
“The fact I’m playing in Scotland is not a concern for me. I’m a young player, so I still have time on my side. I want to be good in the Champions League and the Scottish Premiership. That’s what I work for.
“It’s difficult to talk about a call-up for my national team, I just have to keep working hard. Every player who is playing in a foreign country hopes the national team coach will keep watching you and we’ll see what happens.
“Fraser Forster playing for England this season definitely inspires me that I can do it. He is a top-class goalkeeper who has been great for Celtic and he deserves it.
“I look at myself and I want to do what he has done. The manager here tells me that I have it within me, but I’ve got to show it. Coming here has made me a better player, but I knew coming here was a good option and it was up to me to show that to people.
“People back home are noticing what I am doing, especially in the Champions League games. They watch them, but now I have to show it every single week with us being out of the Champions League. I have enough motivation already to play well in the second half of the season. I don’t need any extra.
“Before our game on Friday night, I’ll watch the World Cup draw. I’m actually hoping for a very strong group with strong countries because it is always good to see your nation involved in matches against the best teams.”
One Celtic player who will definitely not be in Brazil next summer is Mikael Lustig, the right-back having had his hopes crushed in the play-offs last month when Sweden lost out to Portugal.
Lusting has been one of Celtic’s most effective performers this season and has played an important role in how quickly van Dijk has settled in at the club on and off the pitch.
“Not only is he a good footballer, he’s a good guy,” said van Dijk. “He’s helped me a lot and his wife has been a help to my girlfriend, too. That’s also a good thing. I socialise with him. We talk a lot.
“On the field, Mikael is very, very good. A complete defender. He’s tall and can head the ball, he’s quick and he crosses very well. For Celtic, he’s very important.
“I think he could be one of leaders in the future, especially with the experience that he has to help a young team. He has a strong mentality and I hope he stays here for as long as he wants.
“He scored a great goal against Hearts on Sunday, although I think he was surprised by it. For me, the fourth goal we scored through Joe Ledley was the best team goal, but Mikael put in the assist for that, too.
“It’s been a happy place since the win over Hearts, but we have to switch on for the next game against Motherwell now.
“Was last Sunday the best performance I’ve ever been a part of? Yes, I’d say so. The result and the team performance was something I was happy to be a part of.
“I knew we could play that way as we have a lot of good international players who keep the ball, so I knew it could be done.”