JOHN Collins has admitted Celtic will find it difficult to retain the services of Virgil van Dijk if they fail to reach the group stage of the Champions League this season.
The Dutch defender has been consistently linked with a move to the English Premier League in the current transfer window with Everton the latest club to be credited with an interest.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who appears set to lose John Stones to Chelsea, has confirmed he is searching for reinforcements in central defence and did not rule out a move for Van Dijk. The 24-year-old is under contract at Celtic until 2017 but has made no secret of his ambition to play in England’s top flight where he believes his prospects of breaking into the Dutch national team will be enhanced.
Celtic assistant manager Collins, who has previously stated Van Dijk is as good as any central defender currently operating in European football, remains hopeful Champions League football will make the player content to spend another season in Scotland.
The Scottish champions face Azerbaijani side Qarabag in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie at Celtic Park tomorrow night and Collins accepts that failure to progress could impact on Van Dijk’s future. “It will probably be harder to keep him if we don’t qualify,” said Collins.
“But, hopefully, we won’t have to deal with that scenario. I am not surprised there is talk about Virgil. When you are a good player, there is going to be speculation. It’s another club mentioned today, I am sure there will be another next week. But he’s a Celtic player. He trains very well and is fully focused. He’s 24 now and has matured. He understands. There’s been plenty of talks with Virgil. He has to focus on what he can control – his training and his performances.
“For me, the biggest competition in the world is the Champions League. That’s where every player wants to play, every coach wants to coach and every supporter wants to be.
“It’s the biggest and best. You are up against the best players and coaches in the world. It’s exciting for everyone involved.
“If you are a centre-half playing in the Champions League you are up against the best forwards in the world. It’s a great challenge and if you do well in the Champions League it puts you on a different level.
“People look at you in a different light if you are taking care of top-class strikers. There is also the financial part of the story of course.”
In addition to trying to hold on to Van Dijk, Celtic are hopeful of making further additions to their squad before the transfer window closes at the end of next month.
Collins dismissed reports in the Dutch media linking them with Den Haag striker Michiel Kramer – “close, but wrong country” was his smiling response to those claims.
“We have a good healthy squad right now,” he added. “But, like every manager or coach will tell you, it can always get better.
“You always look at players to improve each department. It’s not easy. Obviously there are financial constraints but there are also good players at the club so it’s not always easy to get better ones in. Time will tell if we bring any more in.”