RYAN STEVENSON believes that reaching the Champions League group phase will not satisfy the needs of Virgil van Dijk and that his inevitable destination will be the English Premier League.
The 30-year-old Partick Thistle attacker – who describes Van Dijk as the greatest defender he has ever faced – feels the Dutchman is not stretched enough at Celtic, such is quality in all aspects of his game.
Southampton are the favourites to snap up the Dutch defender and it will be a major dilemma for Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell if they come calling and Celtic have qualified for the group phase.
Should he take the money or appease the supporters who know that their Champions League challenge would be hugely diminished without Van Dijk?
Stevenson said: “As much as Celtic are a massive club I do think if you took them out of Scotland and into England it would be fine but I think the standard of this league is below him.
“You’d need to ask him if six Champions League games would compensate for a season in England.
“It’s the best league in the world down there and inevitably everyone wants to go there – that includes top players in Spain and France.”
Stevenson will have another attempt at unsettling Van Dijk today but he feels it may be a forlorn hope after his last experience.
He said: “I don’t think you can ruffle his feathers, really. The last time we played at Parkhead I kind of tried that. I think my idea was to run into him!
“Sometimes you’ve got to try and get in about them and hopefully off the ball while it’s up there you can get a wee elbow into him or just try and do something to knock him off.
“But I think he enjoys that as well. If you give him some, he’ll give as good as he gets back. He’s a top player all round and seems a top lad. He likes a bit of banter on the pitch.
“He probably strolls through most of the games here. He’s fast, he’s strong and along with that he’s great on the ball. He just seems to play in second or third gear.
“He’s playing for a massive club worldwide in Celtic but probably the standard in Scotland is below him, to be honest. He’s a player who can go down to England and probably kick on there as well.
“If he was to get a move he’d only get better. I genuinely believe he’s the best centre half I’ve played against – by a country mile. He’s pretty much sound defensively.
“Madjid Bougherra when he was at Rangers was good going forward but at times he could get caught out at the back. Van Dijk gives a threat going forward and scores goals, some of them phenomenal, and he’s so solid.”
Van Dijk will face a new challenge in the shape of giant striker Mathias Pogba, who was brought in earlier this week and will play at some stage today.
Stevenson added: “I think he gives us a different option at least. He’s big, he’s powerful, and he looks good on the ball as well. The boys have been really impressed with him in training.
“He’s probably something we’ve been missing. We’ve got Kris Doolan up top and his game is getting in the box and scoring goals whereas Mathias is a big, quick, strong and direct.
“I think he’d relish a game like Sunday. He will like the hustle and bustle of it and there’s no bigger test than against Van Dijk so it will be good to see the two of them, if Mathias is playing, going head to head.”