Neil Lennon believes Liverpool would rake in at least double the £75million they paid Southampton for Virgil van Dijk should they opt to sell the Dutchman in the future.
The interim Celtic boss famously plucked Van Dijk from relative obscurity at FC Groningen for £2.6m in the summer of 2013 and watched in admiration as he turned in a solid defensive display – and scored a dramatic late goal as Liverpool knocked Bayern Munich out of the Champions League in midweek.
Lennon has already gone on record stating his belief that Van Dijk, who was sold to Southampton for £13m after two years at Parkhead, is the best defender in world football at the moment and believes he would walk into the first team at any of the club game’s recognised superpowers.
Virgil van Dijk helped Liverpool knock Bayern Munich out of the Champions League this week
‘You could double what Liverpool paid for him,’ said Lennon.
‘It’s Liverpool’s gain and there must be a lot of people out there kicking themselves about not doing it quicker – because the difference between Liverpool now and what they were defensively before him is night and day.
‘He’ll just keep going, I think. Who knows where his career will take him? I’m sure he’ll want the Champions League and the Premier League, but there’s no stopping him, really.
‘He’s like a Rolls-Royce. I’m surprised no one took him earlier, and none of the bigger clubs other than Southampton took him, but it was smart from them and now it’s smart from Liverpool.
‘He could play for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and it wouldn’t be a problem. The pressures are different, but he could adapt to that no problem.
‘I agree that he is the best defender in the world. He is. I don’t see anyone better than him at the minute. Again, you saw his qualities during the week.
‘I saw him at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago and he dominated the game. He makes it look so easy, he does everything so cleanly. It’s not easy.
‘Defensively the other night, he was excellent against (Robert) Lewandowski, who isn’t bad, by the way. Then, you see what he brings to your attacking set-plays.
‘Is there anyone better? I’m not so sure. You could talk about Thiago Silva maybe at PSG, but, in terms of everything he brings to the game, he is right up there.’ Lennon has often spoken of his surprise that no one else seemed to be trailing Van Dijk, pictured below with the Bhoys boss with the Premiership trophy in 2014, when he first appeared on Celtic’s radar.
Even now, he expresses a certain bemusement that there was no one really battling him for the central defender’s services when he was already an Under-21 cap for Holland.
Dutch defender Van Dijk spent two seasons in Scotland with Celtic between 2013 and 2015
‘It might have been the pathway the agent wanted to take – come to Celtic first and establish himself in the British game then move on,’ he reflects. ‘Whatever they’ve done, it’s been the right pathway for him.
‘He’s been well managed, but he could have made the leap from Groningen to the Premier League no problem. Johan Mjallby (Lennon’s then assistant boss went to see him, then I went. I watched him against Ajax. They lost that day, but we’d seen more than enough by then.
‘Even at first, I couldn’t believe it when I was watching the footage. You know when you watch players on video, you are thinking: “There’s got to be something wrong with this kid.
‘He’s got to have an eye missing or something like that”. He looked like Rio Ferdinand.
‘He’s galloping from defence through midfield, playing one-twos, joining in the attacks, recovering, heading the ball in both boxes, and you’re thinking: “Wow!”.
‘You go see him and you’re looking around to see if there’s any other scouts there. Then, you get him in and you think: “What a player”.
‘It was a brilliant bit of business by the club and by the agent, for us anyway.’ If anything, Van Dijk always gave the impression he was playing well within himself for most of his Celtic career.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is very impressed by Van Dijk and believes he is worth £150m
Indeed, Lennon believes there could still be a gear or two in reserve with the 27-year-old.
‘I think that’s what maybe put people off taking him in the first place, but he just reads the game so well,’ he said.
‘He’s up there with any of them over the years. You could compare him to Alan Hansen.
‘They are different types, because Virgil is a more physical specimen, but Hansen could read the game and was brilliant on the ball playing in a good team.
‘Virgil is playing every game the way we knew he could, and he has now gone up a level. He’s adjusted to it brilliantly.
‘He’s calm, but he’s not arrogant. I never thought he was big-headed in any way. Just a really good, well-grounded individual.
‘He knew how good he was but wasn’t blase about it. When you see him being interviewed now, he’s the same Virgil he was four or five years ago.’