Oriam, Scotland's sports performance centre, has been open for a year now. It is the…
For every club he has played for, Virgil Van Dijk has looked the part. Some of that is down to the Dutchman’s physicality – his height, his strength, his speed across the ground. Some of it is down to his persona – confident, vocal, a natural organiser. Whatever it is, Van Dijk always had the aura of a player destined for the top of the game. His world record move to Liverpool takes him a little closer to that plinth.
Indeed, the £75 million paid by Liverpool to Southampton last week made Van Dijk the most expensive defender in football history. That fee was partly dictated by the Reds’ sheer desperation for a top quality centre back, but was deemed by many to be a fair price for, arguably, the most complete in the Premier League. Even at that price, there is a sense that the 26-year-old hasn’t quite reached the top of his abilities. Many expect Van Dijk, at some point, to turn out for a Barcelona or a Real Madrid.
Of course, Van Dijk’s upward trajectory can be traced back to his time at Celtic, where he honed a number of key qualities and proved himself against Europe’s elite. It was in Glasgow where the Dutchman matured into something nearing the player he is today. For Scottish football fans, particularly those of a green and white persuasion, Van Dijk’s success in the Premier League has come as no surprise.
— Times Sport (@TimesSport) January 5, 2018
Alongside Van Dijk in Liverpool’s backline is another player who owes much to the sport north of the border – Andy Robertson. The former Queen’s Park and Dundee United man has become a key figure for the Anfield side in recent weeks, showing why Jurgen Klopp paid £10 million to sign him from Hull City in the summer.
So will the success of these two, along with the likes of Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster and others, will Premier League clubs start to look to Scotland more often in their search for shrewd signings? In a market that inflates with every overpriced trade between superclubs, our league remains one of the few places in world football where value for money can still be found.
No longer is there grounds for snobbery concerning the way world football, particularly the Premier League, looks at the Scottish game. If the most expensive defender in history was sourced from Scotland then what reason is there to put scorn on others who could follow a similar career path? Anything about Scottish football being irrelevant, at least with regards to the quality of play, is little more than arrogance.
Of course, the flow of talent heading south is already well established. Almost every Scottish Premiership player has, at one point or another, pondered a move down south. This dynamic has become an existential challenge for the Scottish game, although there are benefits that come with it. Would Celtic have been able to lure Van Dijk from Holland, for instance, without the promise that Premier League eyes would be watching?
But time and time again, Scottish Premiership players are undervalued. Moussa Dembele is considered one of the brightest young talents in the European game, with the Celtic striker crowned France’s Under-21 player of the year last season. Yet he could move to relegation-threatened Brighton for around £20 million, at a time when Danny Rose is reported to be valued at £45 million and an Alexis Sanchez with just six months left on his contract at £35 million. £20 million wouldn’t even cover Philippe Coutinho’s agent’s fees following the Brazilian’s £146 million move to Barcelona.
The Premier League’s collective attitude towards our game can be summed up in the recent comments of Neil Warnock recounting of his interest in Van Dijk. “When I was at Palace I went after a centre-half at Celtic called Van Dijk and they want £6 million,” he said. “So I said “we’ve got to buy him, don’t we?” But the chief scout went to see him and said “he’s not very quick. It’s Scottish football.” That was before Southampton came in for him.”
Granted, this was a long time ago, but residue of this attitude remains. Perhaps we should be grateful that so many Premier League clubs and English football figures haven’t cottoned on to the value of our game, but whenever a disparaging comment is directed north, Van Dijk, and others, stand as a £75 million rebuttal.