Virgil van Dijk is best in Europe, claims Collins

IF VIRGIL van Dijk feels the need to employ a new agent any time soon, he could do worse than seek the services of John Collins.

Celtic assistant manager John Collins believes centre-half Virgil van Dijk should remain with the club and take a longer-term view of a career which, he believes, can reach great heights. Picture: SNS

Celtic’s assistant manager has issued the most glowing testimony imaginable of the big Dutchman, claiming he is not bettered as a central defender anywhere in European football.

Collins’ remarkable assessment of van Dijk comes at a time when the 
23 year old is again being persistently linked with a move away from the Scottish champions.

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That speculation was fuelled by van Dijk himself in a recent Dutch media interview when he stated the time was right for Celtic to sell him to an English Premier League club where he would have a better opportunity to force his way into his national team.

But Collins insists he has received personal assurances from Van Dijk that he is not itching for an immediate exit.

Collins is adamant Van Dijk will remain at Celtic at least for the duration of their forthcoming Champions League qualifying campaign and has urged him to take a longer-term view of a career he believes will eventually scale great heights.

“I believe there is currently no better centre half in Europe than Virgil van Dijk,” said Collins. “I watch Champions League football, I watch English Premier League football every week and Virgil is as good as anybody who is playing football in Europe.

“For me, Virgil can play for any team in Europe so the important thing is he doesn’t think he has to jump ship quickly and take the first offer. He’s got to believe in his ability and believe that he can play for a top European club.

“He’s at a great club just now and if he keeps working hard and developing then I’ve no doubt that one day he’ll be at a top Champions League club – I’m talking about one of the mega names in Europe. I know Virgil will be looking forward to playing in the Champions League with Celtic. No matter what you hear, he has two years to go on his contract, he loves playing for Celtic, he has lots of good friends here, the fans love him and we love working with him.

“He is in a good place. There may come a day when he moves on from Celtic. I have no doubt that will happen in the future because he is a class act. But he has two years to go. At the very least, we need him for the qualifiers this season.”

Despite the many plaudits he has received during his two seasons with Celtic so far, Van Dijk has yet to consistently impress at European level.

In his debut campaign, he helped Celtic reach the group stage of the Champions League but was then a member of the side which lost five of their six matches. Last season, he was among those who performed poorly when Celtic were beaten by both Legia Warsaw and Maribor in a dismal qualifying campaign.

“I think at the start of last season he could have played better,” admitted Collins. “He wasn’t ready mentally in the qualifiers last year but since then his performances have been superb.

“He is a more settled young man now than he was 12 months ago. I am in contact with him regularly even though he is on his holidays.

“I know he is looking forward to coming back and getting into training again. No matter what anybody says, he is loving playing for Celtic. There is no mad panic from our point of view about hanging on to him. I’m very surprised he’s not in the Holland team at the moment and that is probably down to snobbery because of the league he is playing rather than the quality of the individual.

“But that’s where playing in the Champions League with Celtic this season would be good for him. A lot of people will be judged on the Champions League because that’s where most of the top players perform. So that’s where Virgil and all our boys want to be playing, against the big boys.”

Celtic have made just one new signing so far this summer, recruiting Belgian defender Dedryck Boyata as a replacement for his compatriot Jason Denayer who has returned to Manchester City after his season-long loan.

Collins, who dismissed speculation linking Celtic with Scotland internationals Ikechi Anya and Steven Fletcher, expects “another one or two” new additions to arrive before the first Champions League qualifier on 14 or 15 July.

“We already have the nucleus of a good team in place,” added Collins. “We have a good group of players, we know our strengths and they have now had 12 months playing with each other.

“Boyata hasn’t played much football in recent seasons, but he will be sharp and fit. He is going to have three weeks training and four friendly matches before the Champions League.

“He is a top quality football player so I have no worries about him fitting in. Jason Denayer came in last year and after two training sessions he fitted like a glove. Hopefully it will be the same with Dedryck.

“We have been pushing towards getting better and improving, developing the team and playing a brand new style of football that is entertaining.

“Ultimately we want to try to win every trophy domestically and get into the Champions League. That is always going to be the case for Celtic.

“We weren’t sharp enough or fit enough last year when the qualifiers came around. Hopefully we have learned and are ahead of the game this time and the boys will come back on Tuesday in better shape than they were last year.

“Fitness and sharpness are so important. It doesn’t matter how good a player you are – if you are not 100 per cent fit, your talent doesn’t show on the night.”