Former Celtic scout Neil McGuinness recalls discovering Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk

By Euan Davidson

April 20, 2021

Former Celtic scout Neil McGuinness has recalled his experiences of discovering Virgil van Dijk.

The Dutch defender, who starred for the Bhoys between 2013 and 2016, made 115 appearances in the Green and White [Transfermarkt]. Initially shaky, the tall centre-back soon made a massive impression on supporters. After forming a distinguished double act with Lyon man Jason Denayer, it soon became clear that van Dijk was a star in the making.

He’s since become the most expensive defender in world football for Liverpool, and has won a Premier League and Champions League title.

The man who discovered him was one Neil McGuinness, whose name has appeared in the gossip columns today. In the Daily Record, McGuinness was named as a potential Director of Football candidate. With eery timing, McGuinness did an interview with the excellent Football CFB Podcast [Anchor.FM], in which he described finding the Holland and Liverpool star.

McGuinness said [Football CFB]:

“Virgil was more of a young kid finding his feet in the first-team. I remember going over to watch Virgil, and I specifically picked a game where he was playing against Vitesse, away. The striker at the time for Vitesse was Wilfred Bony.

“The reason I picked that game was because I looked at it and I said to myself “well if he can defend against a guy like Bony, he’s going to be more suited to the physical aspect of British football”. You’re up against a lot of big lumps when you play in Britain.

“A lot of the teams you play against, specifically in Scotland, if they are going to attack you, it’s going to be a long ball approach.”

Van Dijk celebrates for Celtic / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

“Shocked to find him at Groningen”: McGuinness on Liverpool man Van Dijk

McGuinness’ comments on the current Liverpool man made for a fascinating listen. The scout continued  [Football CFB]:

“I’d watched Virgil numerous, numerous times on video. I was watching him weekly on his games at Groningen. The first thing I noticed was, I personally felt that he could be in better shape. I thought his bum was a little bit big, to be honest. I don’t think he was in perfect shape physically. But it was clear that he had all the attributes.

“He was good in the air, at the time his hair was all over the place. In that game, he gave Bony a good fight.

“I’m seeing height, I’m seeing he’s decent on the ball, he can compete in the air, I’m seeing if you do get in behind him he’s got the recovery pace. Some of the tackles he made were pretty solid. He missed one or two, but when he got there it was clean.

“You’re looking, going “jeez, this is a player that with the right team mates, the right coaching, could go to a much, much higher level. I was quite shocked to find him at Groningen.”

Liverpool spent massively on van Dijk / (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Neil McGuinness for Celtic return? His observations on Virgil van Dijk are interesting

For sure, the recruitment over the last few years would dictate that we’ve missed McGuinness.

The former Celtic scout is now at MLS champions Columbus Crew, where he’s keeping his eye on talents for the Ohio-based side.

Asked whether he takes any personal credit for his scouting successes, McGuinness concluded [Football CFB]:

“It’s great when you look back over the years. I personally, I keep a close eye on every player I look at. I have gigantic databases, I’m talking thousands and thousands of players I would’ve looked at over the years.

“It’s almost obsessive on my side. Even to this day, I will go back through those databases and I will look at where the players who we looking at, at that time, ended up. And I’ll take notes, and I’ll keep notes.

“So when you see someone like Virgil, going to where he went, winning awards, winning Champions Leagues… I just feel great for the boy. I look at it, and I think to myself, what he put into his career… that’s testament to the boy. He was always wanting to be better than he was.

“I think a lot of the time, he became so comfortable against opponents, he wanted a challenge.”

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