Virgil van Dijk and Player Power

Mauricio Pellegrino, the new boss at Southampton, revealed earlier today (21st June, at the time of writing) that Virgil Van Dijk had expressed an interest in leaving the club and was training by himself. With the Dutchman being Southampton’s best player, as well as having a sort of selling culture within the club, this becomes worrying news and seems to make the player’s departure inevitable.

To talk on Van Dijk, there’s no doubt that losing him would be a huge blow to the Saints. He represents every quality of a modern day defender. His imposing physical presence combined with a remarkable wit for the game means that he is as equally adept at stepping out and making high interceptions as he is blocking and tackling on the back foot. One match in particular that stands out for his performance was an otherwise drab 0-0 against current suitors Liverpool, where he made a couple of fantastic last ditch challenges to keep out an in form Reds attack. The player himself has contributed a few goals to the cause going forward, and as an attacking outlet he is proficient with his composed passing and long strides out of defence.

For me there is no question that he is good enough to make it into any defence in the country – the team that needs him most is Manchester City, but it is Liverpool who have seemed to have the upper hand in purchasing him, especially with it being reported that it is Van Dijk’s personal preference to move to Anfield. It’s that report- along with today’s- that flares up the issue that Southampton have seen all too much of in recent seasons; Player Power.

credit Marcin Koral

Player Power is the buzz-term for individuals breaking rank to try and achieve personal gain – usually a transfer or a contract. It’s not always such a bad thing – the most famous case of Jean-Marc Bosman has paved the way for thousands of players to gain freedom to clubs authoritatively holding them to expired contracts for the sake of profit. Nowadays though it is usually synonymous with high profile players at clubs supposedly ‘below’ their ability looking to force their way out for more lucrative pastures. Van Dijk might want to consider looking at last season’s prime example from the same club, when centre-back Jose Fonte handed in a transfer request in wake of reported interest from Manchester United. He ended up at West Ham.

Whilst the idea of a scenario like that occurring for Van Dijk is unlikely, it does go to show that those who want don’t always get, with other notable departures from St Mary’s such as Morgan Schneiderlin equally demonstrating that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. All too often, the player throwing the temper tantrum does get what he wants, and whilst Southampton are showing some positive signs that they’ll have a backbone on this one, there’s a little more they can do. The defender has 5 years remaining on his presumably worthwhile contract, and the club have stated quite firmly that he is not for sale. Words are pretty meaningless in modern football though, and it is at best unclear whether they would hold up in the face of £50 million.

One striking detail in the news reports surrounding Van Dijk’s current unhappiness is that he is named as the club captain. If it is the case that he has expressed a desire to leave to the manager, then he should be stripped of the captaincy immediately. Even if he is persuaded to stay, and his relationship with the manager remains strong (which by all accounts it currently is), the precedent and the example set by a player who has angled for a move to another club leading his current team out would be extremely poor. Van Dijk might be the best player but this incident has shown that he is not fit for the captaincy and removing it from him is the least the club can do to show him that he is not above the rest of the team in moral matters. By far the most suitable captain of Southampton is Steven Davis who has been a consistent, underrated and highly professional member of the squad for 5 years now.

I also don’t agree with making him train alone. Presumably the idea behind this is that he risks disrupting the morale of other squad members and might even swing their own heads towards a transfer away. Fair enough, but isolating him temporarily surely only sets in place a permanent division from the team. Keep him about the squad, show him he’s not that different from any of the others, and at the very least the media fire won’t be fuelled.

With the market as open as it is, and the media printing more rumours than fact and on a greater scale than ever before, the hard truth is that even higher mid-table clubs such as Southampton are fighting from the ropes as soon as a player impresses and earns some buzz. And as soon as even a slight ‘story’ develops, it spreads like wildfire, and of course this would be impossible to ignore. It’s just such a shame that the professional’s go on to treat it so unprofessionally.

What should Southampton do from here? Let us know in the comments below!