CALL it the tale of the Dutchman, acting like a Scotsman, against Italians. Virgil van Dijk is in no doubt he will take a whole lot of domestic learning into Celtic’s continental date with Internazionale this week.
By that the cultured centre-back means what his time in Glasgow has taught him is that sometimes the agricultural option is the best one. There are certain commentators who would see that as an indictment on our game. It needn’t be.
But Van Dijk, by his own admission, struggled against such as Mario Ballotelli and Alexei Sanchez last year. In the Champions League games last season against Balotelli’s AC Milan where the striker scored twice, and at Barcelona, in which Sanchez excelled, Celtic shipped nine goals across 180 minutes – a 3-0 home defeat against the Italians followed by the 6-1 slaughtering in the Nou Camp.
Being fancy dan against attackers can be a recipe for trouble. Van Dijk’s Scottish schooling has told him there can be another way.
“In Holland, every team is trained to get it into the youths to play from the back and find a footballing solution so I am already used to it. The thing I have learned in Scotland especially is you need to go into the challenges a bit harder and smarter than what I was used to and that’s good.
“I think you need to have a good mix of it.
“In Holland you try and find the footballing solution every time, even when you are under pressure. Even when you are 2-0 down you still try to play from the back.
“But I think at the highest level of European football sometimes you need to kick the ball away, play long balls and just challenge, win the war.
“That’s what I know right now, that’s what I have learned. And that’s something I will take away with me for the rest of my career.
“Last year was a great experience for me, I learned a lot. It was a new experience to play against strikers like Balotelli and Sanchez, and I had difficult nights against them.
“They have a lot of quality and experience of playing at the highest level.
“But I learned a lot and it made me the player I am today. I need to improve a lot in a lot of areas, I am aware of that and I am working on that every day of the week.”
The 24-year-old needs to work especially hard on raising standards this week.