CELTIC predictably dominated transfer deadline day business in Scotland once again as they received a new record fee of £13 million for Virgil van Dijk.
It is the third successive year that Southampton have paid an eight-figure sum for a Celtic player, eclipsing the previous landmark received by a Scottish club of £12.5m for Victor Wanyama in the summer of 2013.
Dutch defender van Dijk’s long-anticipated move sees him follow the same career path taken by Wanyama and then Fraser Forster who joined the English south coast club for £10m 12 months ago.
The Scottish champions redistributed a slice of their latest windfall to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, signing midfielder Ryan Christie for a fee of around £500,000.
The 20-year-old penned a four-year contract at Celtic but has been immediately loaned back to Inverness, with the proviso he can be recalled by Ronny Deila in January if required.
Celtic also completed the £4m signing of Croatian central defender Jozo Simunovic from Dinamo Zagreb late last night, while they allowed Irish defender Eoghan O’Connell to join Oldham Athletic on loan until January.
Apart perhaps from Celtic’s financial controller, who has now seen £35.5m banked from the sales of Wanyama, Forster and Van Dijk to Southampton, the biggest grin at Parkhead yesterday belonged to Christie. Named Young Player of the Year by the Scottish football writers last season, he had started to attract the attention of a number of English clubs. But as soon as Celtic showed their hand, Christie was determined to secure the move to the club where his father Charlie spent two seasons on the books from 1987 to 1989 and which he has supported for as long as he can recall.
“Since I pulled the Celtic jersey on, I haven’t stopped smiling,” said Christie. “It has been a pretty mad 24 to 48 hours. Now that’s it’s finalised, I feel a bit more relaxed. It always takes a while for a transfer to go through in football these days, so I wasn’t really nervous about it.
“I was just really hoping to get the chance to speak to Celtic. When I did, I was just pushing for the deal as much as I could.
“Celtic can choose to recall me in January if they feel they want to. For me, that’s ideal. Going back to Inverness gives me time to hit the goals I set for myself at the start of the season with them and also to settle things for moving to Glasgow when I do come back.
“I know it is going to be hard to get into the team here. But I’ve got to challenge myself as part of my career. I’m not going to go anywhere just to sit on the sidelines. So I need to step up to the plate now and prove that I’m ready to play for Celtic.
“I still want to do well for Inverness to show the manager here what I can do. Hopefully I will go back there and hit a bit of form and score some goals. That would plant me in his mind so when I come down here, he knows that I’m ready to go.
“There were rumours of a few other clubs being interested. But when you hear a team like Celtic have come in, that’s it. They are an incredible team with an incredible fan base. Just to be able to say I’ve played for Celtic in part of my career will be a huge thing.”
Christie senior failed to make the first-team breakthrough at Celtic, heading back to Inverness after two years as the reserve team’s top scorer in the shadow of strikers such as Frank McAvennie, Mark McGhee and Andy Walker.
He did eventually enjoy a famous night at Celtic Park, earning the man of the match award for his part in Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s shock Scottish Cup win in 2000. “I was at the game but I was only five and don’t remember much about it to be honest,” said Christie junior. “My dad’s mentioned it, just the few thousand times! I’ve seen the videos of course so I know all about it.
“My dad was a bit stressed about my move over the past few days but now it’s finally gone through, he’s delighted.
“We’ve had a couple of chats to weigh up the pros and cons and it’s definitely a move that I had to take while I had the chance. I’ve been a Celtic fan since a young age but even that aside, I think it’s a great move for me.
“My dad spoke to me about his experience here. He told me a lot of stuff, in terms of the physical aspect of things. That’s a side of the game I’ve been working on. At a place like Celtic, they’ve got all the top training facilities so that can only improve me as a player.
“My dad said he enjoyed it here, although he found it hard to break in. He told me that I might find it the same when I move down, but it’s about being mentally strong and keeping going. When I get my chance, I have to take it.
“It maybe gives me an extra incentive to make the breakthrough here – to get one over on my dad! I’m sure he’s proud of me, but he won’t tell me that. He’s probably my harshest critic. He’s coached me from a young age, so I don’t think he’s been too keen to give me much but surely I’ll get some praise now.”
Van Dijk concluded his move to Southampton a few hours before the 6pm English deadline, signing a five-year contract at St Mary’s.
“Celtic did absolutely everything we could to keep Virgil at the club, including an offer of a new extended contract on a number of occasions,” read a Celtic statement on the player they signed for £2.6m from
Groningen two years ago.
“However, it became very clear that he had made his mind up on seeking a new challenge in the English Premier League.
“Virgil has served Celtic very well for the past two seasons, we thank him for his contribution to the club and we wish him all the best for the future at Southampton.”
Van Dijk has been set on a move south for some time in order to enhance his chances of international recognition with the Netherlands.
“It was a very easy decision for me,” said Van Dijk. “Southampton is a very ambitious club. It’s been doing very well in the last couple of years. It’s a great place to be and I think it’s the right step for me to take.
“It has been a dream for me. Everyone as a young boy sees the Premier League and for me to now get the opportunity is unbelievable. Southampton try to play football and that’s something that really attracts me.
“It is the right time for my development as well. I’m still quite young at 24, I still have a lot to learn and Southampton is the perfect step for me right now.”