Virgil van Dijk believes Ronald Koeman’s tough love is making him a better player and Southampton’s stand-out performer is confident he will be learning from the Dutch great for a while to come.
Signed last summer from Celtic at a reported cost of £13million, the 24-year-old has seamlessly slotted into Saints’ defence.
Van Dijk’s displays earned him the fans’ and players’ player of the year honours at Southampton’s end-of-season awards on Wednesday, which came just days after penning a new and improved six-year deal at St Mary’s.
The Holland international is loving life at what he calls a “beautiful club” and believes there is much more to come individually and collectively, thanks in no small part to manager Koeman.
“He was an amazing player himself,” Van Dijk said. “I never saw him play (live) but obviously I’ve seen clips of it and you know the stories.
“But, yeah, I can learn from him every day and that’s what I definitely do.
“He gives me confidence and he wants to get the maximum out of me and that’s something very positive for me as well.
“He’s very, how you say, critical of me, hard on me, so he wants me to do better, even smaller details and I think that’s a very good sign. I am very glad he is doing that as well.”
The criticism in the early part of the season related to concentration, with Van Dijk admitting there were a few “dodgy” moments.
Going from dominating the Scottish Premiership with Celtic to life in the Premier League required adaptation, but the defender enjoyed the low moments as “that’s made me the player I am today”.
Van Dijk picked out his maiden Premier League goal against Swansea as his favourite moment at Saints this term, but is frustrated to have only netted three times.
“That’s also something for me,” he said. “I am very hard on myself. I need to score a couple more this season.
“With my height and also ability to head the ball in free-kicks for example, what I didn’t show this year I need to do a lot better. It is something to work on.”
Van Dijk on European ambitions and Koeman future
Van Dijk will get a chance to add to this season’s tally when Crystal Palace arrive in Sunday’s season finale, when a fourth straight win could see Saints finish as high as fifth.
Koeman’s men can finish no lower than eighth but are hoping to better last season’s best-ever Premier League finish of seventh and reach the Europa League.
“We know it is the last game so we are going to give it our all like every single game we did the last couple of weeks, for example,” Van Dijk said.
“It is going to be an all-in game for us. We want to win and hopefully it is going to happen, with good football and a lot of goals but it is going to be tough because we didn’t beat them this year.
“We want to just win the game and hopefully that is going to happen.”
It would be a fitting end to another impressive campaign under Koeman, whose future Van Dijk is relaxed about despite Southampton’s displays attracting admiring glances.
“I think he has done an amazing job so far,” the centre-back said of his manager.
“Hopefully we can do it next year as well and then it is about him and the club and what he wants to do.
“If we do well and we are going to progress and then hopefully do better than we do this year then I am very confident he will stay.”