Ronny Deila has told Si Ferry’s Open Goal that Manchester City were in talks to sign Liverpool colossus Virgil van Dijk from Celtic before the Dutch defender moved to Southampton in 2015.
Neil Lennon brought van Dijk, now 28, to Celtic in the summer of 2013 from Eredivisie side FC Groningen and he instantly starred in green and white. He left with two Scottish Premiership medals, clocking up 115 appearances in all competitions.
Deila worked with van Dijk in his second year at Celtic after replacing Lennon as manager, and eventually sold the now club-record Liverpool signing to Southampton – but only after speaking to Manchester City about a potential move.
Indeed, Deila told ex-Celt Ferry that Manchester City were weighing up a move and had spoken to Deila about a move for the defender. However, a red card against Inter Milan and poor form in Europe scuppered a move to the Etihad.
“Did I get in touch with City? Yes,” Deila said. “I said you have to take him. They said, ‘okay, tell me the best European game he has played and we will watch it’. I couldn’t tell them what game that was because he hadn’t any real good European games.
“He was really dominant in Scotland but he got sent off against Inter away. That was a big test. I think if he had played fantastically in that game, he would have been bought. I think the big clubs think Scottish football is too low a level.
“They don’t want to take a chance on a player for that kind of money. In Europe, then you can show how good you are. I think van Dijk was good, but he didn’t have that one really really good game in Europe.”
TBR’s view – Van Dijk needed Southampton spell
A move straight to Manchester City would not have seen van Dijk learn the ways of the Premier League, and the Dutch giant would not have evolved into the player that finished third in last year’s Ballon d’Or.
Moving to the Saints where he was instantly first choice allowed van Dijk to adapt and develop further into the player he is now. Had he joined Manchester City, he may have only gained intermittent game time.
So, City fans may see the comments on van Dijk as a blow and feel what could have been, had they had van Dijk at centre-back – but without that Southampton spell, £180k-a-week (Spotrac) van Dijk would have struggled.