WHEN Celtic last headed to Dens Park at the end of August, Virgil van Dijk was left at home as he fretted over the club’s refusal to sell him during the summer transfer window.
This Saturday, with the January window now also having come and gone, van Dijk will be as enthusiastic as any member of the Celtic squad when they return to Dens in hot pursuit of a domestic treble he is “convinced” they will win this season.
The Dutch defender is a far more settled and relaxed figure now than he was at the start of the season, when he was clearly itching for a move to one of the English Premier League clubs consistently linked with him.
Van Dijk, who is under contract to Celtic until 2017, accepts the Scottish champions’ desire to keep him at least until the end of the current campaign and is more appreciative of an environment which offers him the opportunity of multiple silverware over the next few months.
Celtic are three points clear at the top of the Premiership with a game in hand, have a League Cup final date with Dundee United on 15 March after Sunday’s 2-0 semi-final win over Rangers and face Dundee on Saturday in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. There is also the small matter of a Europa League last 32 tie with Inter Milan.
“I’m very happy at Celtic,” said van Dijk. “The next few months will be big and I want to win a treble. I’m convinced we can do it. We have a lot of quality and when we play at our best, we have a great chance of winning everything. You never know in the cups and we have to be up for each game. If our attitude is right and we are 100 per cent on our game, we can beat everyone and win the treble.
“I really enjoyed the win against Rangers and now there is a trophy in our sights that we have a big chance to win. We can still improve as a team and we know that. I need to improve as well but we still have plenty of time on our side this season.”
When Celtic manager Ronny Deila left van Dijk out of his side for that league fixture at Dens Park at the start of the season, there was speculation of a rift between the the pair. But the 23-year-old centre-half insists there has never been a problem with Deila whom he feels deserves more recognition for the work he has done in his first season at the club.
“There was no tension between us, there was just a lot of rumour,” added van Dijk. “Once the window shut in August, I just focused on Celtic. It’s an amazing club, an amazing team and I love the fans. I think we have done a great job and I’m still happy at Celtic. The manager is doing a great job and you have to give him credit. After a difficult start, he’s still got us in all competitions and he wants to make us all better players and that’s the most important thing.”
Van Dijk relished his first experience of the Old Firm fixture on Sunday. Depending on the Scottish Cup progress of both teams, it could also turn out to be his only taste of it should be indeed move on at the end of the season. “We won and I can always say that if it turns out to be my last,” he smiled. “Maybe there will be another one this season, who knows. If so we need to be ready for that.
“The day after I signed for Celtic, everyone told me I needed to play in an Old Firm game. I enjoyed it from start to finish and the experience didn’t disappoint me at all.”
Van Dijk strolled through the semi-final, his sole moment of discomfort coming when Kenny Miller’s flailing arm caught him in the face.
“It was just an elbow, the sort that happens every week,” he said. “I’m not going to talk badly about him. Maybe he meant it, I don’t know, but I’m not going to dwell on it and we have to move on. I could have scored in the game which would have been nice but I was too busy trying to shrug off my opponent and sent my header over. But we won the game and that’s what counts.
“We had good pressure and good energy. I know it would be more difficult in the second half as Rangers would try to put high balls into the box but we dealt with that well. The only thing we should have done better was keep the ball longer. People can say it wasn’t a good game but it was a good victory for us.”
Meanwhile, Celtic striker
Anthony Stokes insists he hopes to go to battle with the Ibrox men again next season, having loved every minute of Sunday’s semi-final.
“I’ve said in the past, having Rangers back in the top flight would be good for Scottish football. Not only for us as competition and to push us on, but for the rest of the clubs with the financial benefit that it brings,” he said. “I just think it benefits the whole country. These games are special occasions. Playing with Celtic you always get these great European nights but nothing can compare with the passion that goes into an Old Firm game. So it’s always good to have it back.”
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