Virgil van Dijk relishing Glasgow return as Liverpool defender admits ‘immense’ Celtic pressure shaped career
The Dutch international is widely regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the world and will make his first appearance at Ibrox on Wednesday night.
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Travelling back to Glasgow for the first time since he left Celtic seven years ago for a crack at the English Premier League will stir warm reminiscenses for Virgil van Dijk over the coming 24 hours.
Little did the imposing Dutch centre-back know that spending two successful seasons at Parkhead between 2013 and 2015 would impact all that has followed in a glittering career to date.
The 31-year-old recalls his stint in Scottish football with a great sense of gratitude as he prepares to step out at a stadium he never got the chance to experience.
Van Dijk, who moved to Southampton in a £13million deal in September 2015, has gone on to establish himself as one of the best defenders in world football at Liverpool.
He will play a leading role once more for Jurgen Klopp’s men when the face off against Rangers at Ibrox in Wednesday’s Champions League encounter to conclude the second instalment of a double header that followed a convincing 2-0 victory for the Reds at Anfield last week.
“Glasgow means a lot, and it will be good to see old friends,” said the Netherlands international. “It was my first time going abroad, my first time winning trophies, and all of those things were massive to me.
“They shaped me, how I am as a person. I have my daughter who was born there. So many good memories that I will cherish forever so it will be great to go back and I hope we will get the win as well.
“I (learned so much). I played for FC Groningen for a long time, they are a mid-table club and sometimes you defend a lot, sometimes you can attack. But not like what I was used to at Celtic.
“At Celtic, the pressure was immense. If you draw you’ve lost. You had to win and that was something, that mentality, I definitely learned.
“But is was also learning how to play the British style with more direct, channel balls, a lot of fighting, headers. It was something I wasn’t really used to in Holland so it definitely helped me in order to be ready for my next step in the Premier League.
“Celtic was 100 per cent similar to Liverpool and that is maybe one of the reasons that I picked Liverpool (in 2019) as well. I really feel taht my step to Celtic was something based on a feeling with the fans, the club, the community and that it really feels like it’s a way of living at Celtic.
“With Liverpool, it is exactly the same. When I had the choice to pick between Liverpool and other clubs, for me it was quite clear that I wanted to come here. I play here and I feel like I play for a lot of people and their lives. I am really proud of being a part of Celtic and Liverpool.”
During his two-year spell with the Hoops, Van Dijk never got the opportunity to pull on the green and white jersey in front of a capacity crowd at Ibrox as their fierce city rivals worked their way back up the leagues after suffering liquidation in 2012.
Van Dijk knows his past days in Glasgow’s East End means he will face a fiery reception as he takes to the pitch tomorrow night.
“You think so?” he said, with a wide grin. “It happens and you have to accept it. The only thing I can do is focus on the game and that is what I will do.”