VIRGIL van Dijk had plenty of time for reflection last week. While most of his Celtic team-mates were scattered around Europe and beyond serving their respective countries, the big defender spent the international break sunning himself in Dubai.
As much as he enjoys what appears to be the favoured holiday destination of professional footballers, Van Dijk would ideally have preferred to be part of the Dutch squad currently making such hard work of qualifying for Euro 2016.
But a first senior international cap for the 23-year-old remains frustratingly elusive. He has been called up to the Netherlands squad three times, most recently last October, but has yet to play.
He was on the outside looking in again as Guus Hiddink’s team scrambled a 1-1 draw at home to Turkey on Saturday, leaving them third in Group A, before earning a morale-boosting 2-0 friendly win over Spain on Tuesday night.
Van Dijk has little doubt that a low opinion of Scottish club football among those in his homeland is a major factor in his continuing absence from Hiddink’s plans.
Clearly, a much speculated about move to the English Premier League next season would address that issue for Van Dijk and raise his profile in the Netherlands. But he claims such a scenario is firmly in the back of his mind as he focuses on his role in Celtic’s bid for the club’s first domestic treble since 2001.
“I think maybe one of the big reasons is they don’t take the league in Scotland seriously”Virgil van Dijk
“That’s all I’m thinking about,” said Van Dijk. “I’m not thinking this is going to be my last season at Celtic or anything else. I don’t think about that at the moment, not at all. I think about the treble.
“We have one trophy already and the other two are close, so I want to win both of them and write some history.
“I speak to my agent almost daily. But he’s more than an agent to me, he’s also become a very good friend. He knows exactly what I want and what I don’t want to hear. So, we have a very good relationship and that remains that way.
“It’s very difficult for me to say why I’m not playing for Holland. Nobody asks the manager [Hiddink] or his staff either why I’m not getting a call-up.
“I think that maybe one of the big reasons is they don’t take the league in Scotland too seriously. For me, the only thing I can do is play well for Celtic, work hard and prove myself day in and day out.
“I also have to keep enjoying what I’m doing. I’m at a good place and we hope for the treble. That’s the main thing. I must see the positives and not the negatives – but in my mind there are no negatives.
“If I’m in the national team, it would be a big bonus because it’s only like last season that I’ve been playing okay and I’ve tried to continue that this season. If I get a call-up, then great.”
Despite missing out on international recognition himself, Van Dijk was able to share in the success of his Celtic central defensive partner Jason Denayer who won his first senior cap for Belgium in their Euro 2016 qualifying win in Israel on Tuesday.
“I’m very happy for Jason,” he added. “It was good to see him make his debut and, hopefully, it is the start of a good international career for him. He is a good friend of mine now and it was a good day for him. When he first came to Celtic, he stayed in his shell and didn’t say much to anyone. But the best way to get respect from your team-mates is the way you play on the pitch and you can see he has a lot of confidence now.
“It was a little bit disappointing for me when the Dutch squad was first announced for last week’s games. But then when I knew I was getting a week off, it was a better day! I felt I needed this break a lot, I’ve never played so many games in a season.
“It was a nice time in Dubai with my family and I actually met Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor, who were also over there. The better players were all with their national teams – we were in Dubai! It’s the first time I’ve seen Stuart without Gary Mackay-Steven beside him. I think he went home to Thurso, he tells me there are nice white beaches there, too.”
Van Dijk’s relaxed mood extends to his assessment of Celtic’s Scottish Premiership title run-in, starting with tomorrow night’s trip to face bottom of the table St Mirren in Paisley.
Victory would extend Celtic’s lead over nearest challengers Aberdeen to eight points with nine games remaining.
“I can see the finishing line now,” said Van Dijk. “But I was already confident that we were going to be champions anyway. It’s still tight, but we’re not going to lose two games, which is what Aberdeen need us to do. That’s my feeling.
“We just need to keep going. I want to win the rest of the games of the season. If we operate at 100 per cent, we should do it. Every game is going to be difficult but we can do it.”
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