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Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool, Chelsea or Man City? Why £75M a huge roll of the dice

COMMENT: A bit of advice for Mauricio Pellegrino's nearest and dearest: do not let him near a poker table. If there was any hesitation inside the Southampton boardroom, the manager has just made up their mind for them: Virgil van Dijk is on his way.

There's no way back from this. No manager, no matter who he is, dumps a £75m player to the stands when their team is in the situation Saints are in. Axing Van Dijk for the defeat at Chelsea was a clear statement by Pellegrino: We move forward without you.

Thomas Lemar of AS Monaco will run him close, but Van Dijk is set to be the big story for next month's winter market. Pellegrino just managed to kicked things off a couple of weeks early.

So said the manager in his post-match presser: "Obviously we have to start to choose the players that want to help the club 100%. They are human beings and sometimes they don't have a good moment. I understand this.

"But their behaviour has to be committed with the club 100%."

Bang! Any plans of a January bluff from Saints directors are now out the window. Those clubs circling St Mary's have been left in no doubt. Van Dijk is up for sale.

Of course, we've seen this show before. Just this summer. When Van Dijk made his demand to be sold to Liverpool. Saints' answer? Go train with the kids. But back then, there was always a confidence inside the club that he'd knuckle down once the season was underway. However today, despite some positive signs from both player and management, Pellegrino has made things crystal clear - there's trouble at t'mill.

So he goes. And for the board. The local media. A fee of £75m is realistic at today's market rates. And we emphasise local because back home in Holland, just like this column, they're scratching their heads. Why £75m? What are they seeing that we're missing?

Liverpool are still in the mix. And there's a confidence on Merseyside that Van Dijk, no matter who else comes forward, will choose Anfield as his next destination - if the Reds can strike terms with Southampton. But there is also Manchester City, Arsenal - even Saturday's opponents Chelsea are being mentioned. Indeed Antonio Conte, the Chelsea manager, refused to shut the door on his club competing when it was put to him after their 1-0 win.

"I do not talk about other players but I like him as a player," said the Italian. “He is quality and I wish him all the best in the future, that's all I want to say."

But Antonio, would you pay 75m quid for him? What about 50m? 35m?

The shortage of available centre-halves. The mad Premier League market. And the even madder Premier League hype. They all must be contributing factors here.

So how can a player, now valued at £75m, have been missed by English clubs when coming through in Holland? How did Celtic manage to get a free run at him four years ago?

A decent question. And one which is at the heart of why Van Dijk splits opinion.

Before making it to the UK, FC Groningen was home for Van Dijk, where he was actually signed from Willem II on a free transfer just short of his 20th birthday. Premier League clubs knew all about the young centre-half, but to a man, their scouts put a line through his name. "Lax". "Lazy". They were just some of the more kinder descriptions. Arthur Numan, who was scout for Aston Villa at the time, admitted: "His attitude simply shocked those watching from England. They thought it best to leave him to go to Scotland."

Former Rangers defender and FC Twente youth coach Bert Konterman admits the approach of English clubs was understandable.

"Virgil is now doing very well - and this surprises me," says Konterman. "At FC Groningen I found him making a lot of mistakes, but the step to Celtic did him good."

Four years on and he's a world-beater... apparently.

But to be fair, the opinion of those in England wasn't unanimous. Brendan Rodgers, now in charge of Celtic, has admitted he was overruled by his scouts at Liverpool about taking on Van Dijk.

"You could already see that Van Dijk was fast, strong and good in the air. So what else should you see? When I was at Liverpool, I asked for him when he was still at FC Groningen," recalled Rodgers.

"I was told he was not good enough for us."

Now, Rodgers can pick a player - and he's proven he can do so at various levels. But his opinion flies in the face of what Numan believes.

"I do not see Virgil in the future playing for an Arsenal type team, because he will never become agile and fast," he says, though does add he can see a Conte system suiting Van Dijk.

"For a team like Arsenal, a defender must be able to handle a lot of space behind them. A team like Chelsea would suit him better."

So opinion is split. According to the experts, like any auction, Van Dijk's value is in the eye of the beholder. But £75m?

No titles. Few caps. And you have half of Dutch football questioning his potential. Never mind Pellegrino, every Premier League chairman involved in this one will be hoping their manager knows the difference between a sure thing and a busted flush.


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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