NEIL Lennon has expressed his irritation at speculation surrounding the future of Virgil van Dijk and insists the Dutch defender is not anxious to make a quick exit from Celtic this summer.
Van Dijk has been a significant success for the Scottish champions since they signed him from Groningen for £2.6 million in June last year. The player’s agent, Henk-Maarten Chin, claimed earlier this week that he expects his client to secure a move to a major club in the Barclays Premier League at the end of the season.
Lennon must fill a gap in his central defence for tonight’s Premiership fixture against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park as Van Dijk will serve a one-match suspension.
But the Celtic manager is confident he will not be required to seek a permanent replacement for the 22-year-old as he puts his preparations in place for next season. “Virgil is our player and he is on a three-year contract,” said Lennon.
“I get really frustrated with this scenario – we bring in a good player and then everyone is trying to sell him off after six months or a year because he’s playing in Scotland or because England is just over the road.
“He’s on a three-year deal, we’re in no rush to sell him and there is no need to sell him. It’s very premature. Virgil was very disappointed by the reports and, according to his agent, there were some quotes taken out of context – but I haven’t spoken to him, so I can’t verify that. But Virgil is not itching to leave, not at all.”
Potential interest in Van Dijk comes as no surprise to Lennon who has seen his judgement of the player’s ability vindicated after other clubs held back from pursuing their interest in him last year.
“It’s understandable because he is a quality player and one of the best I’ve had at Celtic in the four years I’ve been here,” added Lennon.
“Every player has their price as well, but we’d be looking for quite a sizeable fee for Virgil. We just liked the look of him as soon as we saw him. I saw him play for Groningen in a Europa League play-off match in Holland last May and immediately thought he’d be a good signing.
“That’s proved to be the case. He’s been faultless in more or less every game and his attitude has been fantastic. His application to training is fantastic as well.
“We’ve had no indications of interest in him from other clubs as yet and no offers. I’d be second-guessing things to say he’ll definitely be with us next season but we’ve had no approaches so far.
“I’d like to think he would choose to stay at Celtic and continue to develop, although I don’t know how much better he can get. He already has everything you would want in a modern-day central defender.
“He’s quick, he’s very good in the air and he’s superb with the ball at his feet. Defensively, he defends well in decent areas. The fact he’s not playing against Killie means that we have to try and replace his presence. He will be missed.
“He’s only 22 so there is more scope to develop but there are not many faults in his game at the minute.”
Van Dijk is an obvious contender for Player of the Year honours in Scotland this season, along with his Celtic team-mate Kris Commons. The attacking midfielder is top scorer for Lennon’s team with 23 goals and is another whose future the manager would like to secure.
Commons’ contract expires at the end of the season but Celtic have an option to extend it for another year. The 30-year-old revealed that he has yet to receive any confirmation from the club about his situation beyond the summer but Lennon moved to ease any concerns.
“It’s up to the club to take up the option on Kris and after the season he’s had I think it’s pretty nailed on that we will,” said Lennon.
“We would then probably look further down the line to look at keeping him for even longer than just another year. We’re talking about a top, top player here. A Player of the Year candidate, no question.
“He’s been so consistent this year. We’ve got a few – Fraser Forster and Virgil have been models of consistency as well. So we should have a few contenders this season.”
Lennon, meanwhile, has admitted his consternation at the latest fall-out between striker Tony Watt and Stanley Menzo, coach of Belgian club Lierse where the 20-year-old Celtic player is on a season-long loan.
Watt has scored nine goals for Lierse but has been regularly criticised for his attitude and application by Menzo, prompting the Scotland under-21international to publicly complain about his treatment earlier this week.
“It is a bit of a worry,” said Lennon. “It is not the way we want our young players to deal with certain situations. I have not been over-enamoured at times with the coach publicly criticising him, I think that can be dealt with behind closed doors.
“I think it is a source of frustration for Tony because he has done okay there, he has weighed in with a few goals during that loan period. Maybe I need to speak to him and [tell him to] keep his counsel from here and maybe the relationship will get better. But he will be our player again in the summer, I think he has something to offer.”