Virgil van Dijk talks up agent-link Hearts duo

Virgil van Dijk looks ahead to Celtic's clash against Hearts on Sunday. Picture: Steve Welsh
Virgil van Dijk looks ahead to Celtic's clash against Hearts on Sunday. Picture: Steve Welsh
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THE name of Henk Maarten Chin won’t feature on the teamsheet at Tynecastle this afternoon. His efforts could have an influence on the outcome of the Scottish Cup fourth-round tie, though. The representative of Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk, Chin also handles the financial affairs of Hearts duo Alim Ozturk and Soufian El Hassnaoui.

Van Dijk acknowledges that things are going swimmingly for the runaway Championship leaders. The presence of two players that the Dutch defender knows well from his homeland leads him to conclude that things are also working out just dandy for a certain close associate of all three men.

“My agent is doing well,” van Dijk quipped of the fact that Ozturk and El Hassnaoui have made the same seamless transition to Scottish football he did with a £2.6 million move from Groningen in the summer of 2013. Ozturk, at 22, one year the junior of his fellow centre-back, enjoyed his early development at van Dijk’s second club. In contrast to the Celtic pivot, though, Ozturk required to move on from Parkhead to make the senior breakthrough.

The pair have remained friends into adulthood. “I talk to him a lot, he is a good guy,” said van Dijk. A typical Dutch defender, suggests the Celtic man, even if his upbringing had a strong Turkish influence, with both his parents hailing from that country. “He is a smart player, who loves to play the ball out from the back as well,” said van Dijk. “He is still developing, but I think there is a big future ahead for him if he continues to play well.”

The itchiness of Chin to earn van Dijk a move to the English Premiership has made the languid performer the agent’s top headline-maker of clients based in Scotland. Ozturk, though, usurped his fellow former Groningen player with his 40-yard exocet that earned Hearts a stoppage-time leveller in the Edinburgh derby a month ago. “It was a great goal – but I already knew that he could score these kinds of goals, so it wasn’t a surprise,” van Dijk said. “I’ve never scored one like that, so, maybe, he is better at shooting than me, although, maybe, I am better at other things. We will see.”

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Van Dijk, pictured below, could find himself facing Chin’s other man, El Hassnaoui, should the Moroccan U-23 player shake off a knock to feature in the cup-tie. “He played at De Graafschap before suffering a bad injury and he was very good. He is doing well now, getting back on a good level and getting good game time. I am happy for him as well, but he is not going to score on Sunday. If I do my job right, he won’t. We don’t meet up – Edinburgh is a bit too far.”

Not so far that Van Dijk hasn’t been able to appreciate Hearts this campaign. He considers the capital club a loss to the top flight, and didn’t require the evidence of their 2-0 home win over Rangers last weekend to be aware of the challenge they will pose to Celtic’s treble bid this afternoon. He experienced first hand the capable side Robbie Neilson has moulded when Celtic were flattered by a 3-0 victory in the clubs’ League Cup tie in Glasgow’s east end two months ago. “They gave us a difficult game,” he said. “They got a penalty because of me [at 1-0], and it was almost a turning point. They didn’t take it, but we need to be prepared and focused from the start.”

That is something Celtic patently were not on Thursday night, as they were ripped to shreds by Salzburg to fall two goals behind in a Europa League tie in which they rallied before succumbing to a 3-1 defeat. Their struggle gave way to satisfaction, courtesy of rivals Dinamo Zagreb’s 1-0 reverse away to Astra Giurgiu that guaranteed a place in the last 32 for Ronny Deila’s side.

“It was a very bad start, of course, personally as well,” said van Dijk, “but I think the second half was good. We were unlucky that we didn’t score an equaliser, so I think we have to take the positives from the second half. I want to play at my best and I think in the first half wasn’t good enough. I am very critical of myself. I like to be self critical, and I know that I need to be better. I need to learn from this, keep training and become a better player.

“I don’t have any explanation for what happened. After 20 minutes we were lucky we were only 2-0 down, but I think the second half was good. We knew Salzburg’s power, and that they are, maybe, the best pressing team in Europe, so I don’t know why we didn’t start off so well. We need to learn from this.”

Yet, the lesson that van Dijk can learn from the season so far is that, ultimately, results are everything. For all that Celtic have endured a bumpy ride under Deila, if they prevail against Hearts they will go into the new year competing on four fronts.

“I think it would be a big improvement from last year, when we were very disappointing in the cups,” the Celtic defender said. “We had a slow start to the season, but we are still in everything, and that is the most important thing. We must be doing something well, so we need to keep going, keep winning, keep playing well.”

As the January transfer window rolls around, van Dijk’s agent certainly wants that from his saleable Celtic asset.

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