CELTIC manager Ronny Deila expects to face a fight to hold on to Virgil van Dijk when the transfer window opens at the turn of the year.
The Dutch defender seemed close to leaving Parkhead during the last transfer window before Deila insisted that his immediate future was in Glasgow. But the manager, while saying it was his “priority” to keep Van Dijk, accepted that his future could well lie with one of the leading clubs in England.
“I will not be surprised if there more interest in Virgil,” Deila said yesterday after his team’s 4-0 Scottish Cup win against Hearts, in which Van Dijk scored twice and should have had a third goal. “I understand he is a fantastic football player and he is improving all of the time.
“Virgil works hard in training and he’s more focused. He’s going to be expensive, but he loves to be here.
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“I really hope he can stay here and that we can keep him. That is the priority. If he is going, I hope it is to the biggest clubs and not an average Premier League team.
“He has everything you need to do it at that [top-four club] level, but I hope we can keep him to challenge for the four competitions and that would be good for him, too. He is our player and we have a long contract, so I really hope we can keep him.”
Anthony Stokes, who laid on the opening goal for Van Dijk and went on to score himself, joked that the manager was duty-bound to talk up the defender in order to help raise his value in the transfer market. But the Irishman agreed that his team-mate had all the right attributes to thrive at a higher level.
“He’s obviously going to say that – he wants more money for him,” Stokes began when told Deila had said Van Dijk could play for one of the top four clubs south of the Border. “But listen, I genuinely think he could play for a top- six club. I’m not going to say top three, but I think he’s only going to improve and he’s at a high standard as it is.
“He’s right up there as a player. He’s very young and he’s been in and around the national team squad with the Netherlands already. That shows you how highly thought of he is and he’s only going to get better.”
Stokes, played in a wide role up front to accommodate John Guidetti, expressed cautious hopes that the Swedish striker would stay with Celtic longer than his current season-long loan from Manchester City. “I’m sure a few players are having a word in his ear,” he said.
“He’s done very well since he’s come in, but you can’t put pressure on people. I’m sure he’s enjoying his football here – he’s playing and scoring goals and as a striker that’s all you can ask for.
“The fans love him and I’ve said it plenty of times before he is well respected in the dressing room and I think he’s comfortable here and that’s his choice.”
Both Guidetti and Stokes also got on the score sheet in Celtic’s league win at home to Dundee last weekend, but Deila said that the Swede’s performance yesterday was a cut above his showing from that 2-1 win. “We work every day that John has the right focus and right body language,” he said. “He was much better here than against Dundee last weekend.”
Celtic are joined in this afternoon’s draw for the fifth round of the cup by fellow-Premiership clubs Dundee, Dundee United and holders St Johnstone, among others, as well as by Rangers, who beat Kilmarnock 3-0 in yesterday’s other fourth-round game. With the two Glasgow clubs already due to meet in the semi-final of the League Cup at the start of February, there is a possibility that they could end up facing each other in successive games.
But Deila would not be drawn when asked if he hoped to be paired with any particular opponent. “I hope we play at home,” he said.
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