Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman has stated that Virgil van Dijk had to “change his personality” after he signed for Southampton from Celtic.
The big Dutchman left the Hoops in the summer of 2015 to the sum of £13million (BBC). Koeman then worked with him for a year before he left to manage Everton. Van Dijk, meanwhile, would stay at Saints for a further 18 months before moving to Liverpool for a whopping world-record £75m deal (BBC).
Celtic have always taken great pride in the development of the Dutch international. Many who watch him now will still see plenty of the traits we saw during his two-year stint at Parkhead.
However, Koeman has been speaking to UEFA’s official website and has admitted there were elements of his attitude and demeanour that had to change after he signed him.
“I think it was great to work with Virgil because he was an open guy in (terms of) communication. He liked to learn from everybody. He had to change his personality a little bit because sometimes he was a little bit too lazy.
“Maybe people will tell you that he was a little bit arrogant in his football. We worked really hard, but the credit is for the player. He is now, in my opinion, one of the best defenders we have in football.”
Van Dijk had his Parkhead sloppy moments
There were times when Virgil would at times cost Celtic dearly. He was hardly immune to the odd sloppy pass out of the back, and would at times show some rashness with a red card here or there.
Celtic reached the last 32 of the Europa League under Ronny Deila back in 2015. However, in the away match against Inter Milan with Celtic drawing 3-3 on aggregate, van Dijk would get himself sent off for two silly bookings. That was one example of the recklessness he showed at times.
There’s no real denying that Southampton managed to weed some of that out of his game. Perhaps it was more a case of the player simply maturing and developing his game the older he got. You’ll do well to find the former Celtic star making any of those rash mistakes these days.
There was also the mental aspect to everything. van Dijk had known for a long time that he was several classes above what Scottish football had to offer during his time here. It was likely the case that the positive arrogance he showed up here followed him down south for a period where it turned into a negative one. That’s something Koeman would’ve had to stamp out almost instantly.
But he did, and now look at him. A Champions League and Premier League winner. In terms of Celtic success stories, you simply don’t get a better poster boy than big Virgil. It’s utterly bizarre to think Celtic signed him from Groningen in 2013 for a modest fee of £2.6m (BBC).
Unfortunately, van Dijk is currently sidelined and will require knee surgery after a nasty challenge from Everton’s Jordan Pickford in Saturday’s Merseyside derby (Sky Sports). Hopefully, he can recover and find his previous levels as soon as possible.