Van Dijk plays down prospect of Lennon Celtic exit

Virgil van Dijk celebrates netting against Hibernian. Picture: SNSVirgil van Dijk celebrates netting against Hibernian. Picture: SNS
Virgil van Dijk celebrates netting against Hibernian. Picture: SNS
CELTIC defender Virgil van Dijk admitted he felt like lifting the Scottish Cup as photographers posed him with the trophy yesterday.

“I wasn’t allowed to touch it though, so I didn’t,” the Dutchman smiled. On other matters broached as the defender was wheeled out to promote his club’s hosting of Aberdeen in the competition on Saturday, the 22-year-old preferred a light touch.

Such an approach did not make his thoughts on the abuse meted out to his manager Neil Lennon by Aberdeen fans at Tynecastle on Saturday less than well judged, however. The incident was never going to prompt incredulity to a young man raised in a country with horrendous hooliganism problems.

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“It was terrible to see what happened to the manager but I think there were only a couple of people doing it,” said the player, with much coverage devoted to comments from Lennon that such grief could lead him to consider his position. “It was terrible. Sometimes stuff like that happens in Holland, too. It happens everywhere in the world. A couple of people behave like that and ruin it for the other people in the stadium, who will now be seen as the bad people. It’s terrible and it shouldn’t happen. It would be terrible if these people pushed the manager to leave. But the manager is a great person and I’m very positive nothing will happen.”

Celtic chat these days seems to require a calculator. Lennon’s side created a record by posting an 11th consecutive league clean sheet at the weekend, in their 13th straight Premiership win, to leave them unbeaten across their entire 24 games in the top flight this season. The form of home-front perfection that Celtic have achieved in the past two months – they are on a 14-game domestic clean-sheet streak thanks to the 7-0 Scottish Cup win over Hearts – may be wonderful for the club and its followers but hardly reflects dazzlingly on the football set-up in this country. Van Dijk understands that.

“We will get a lot of respect of course, first of all, but some of the people will say the Scottish league is too easy for us,” he said. “But we still have to win games and we still have to not concede goals and that’s not as easy as people think. Everybody wants to be the first ones to score a goal or win a game against us. I hope that’s not going to happen.”

At the weekend, Celtic will face an Aberdeen side on a high after reaching a cup final for the first time in 14 years, courtesy of the 4-0 League Cup semi-final victory against St Johnstone. “They have a good spirit now, they are winning games, and they played a good game with the 4-0. We are also in a good mood. We have to be at our best. If we are, we are going to win the game.”