Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino insists wantaway defender Virgil van Dijk will be 100% focused in this weekend’s trip to face suitors Liverpool.
The talented 26-year-old would rather be emerging from the home dressing room at Anfield this Saturday having made his desire to join Jurgen Klopp’s men clear.
But, having seen several players enticed away in recent years, Southampton dug in their heels and kept hold of Van Dijk despite the player’s public transfer request towards the end of a messy summer.
Liverpool had to apologise in June for “any misunderstanding” surrounding their interest in the defender, saying they had dropped their interest after Saints asked the Premier League to investigate an alleged improper approach.
It is quite the backdrop as Van Dijk prepares to line up at Anfield on Saturday, but Saints manager Pellegrino has no doubts about the centre-back’s mentality.
“I don’t think it will be difficult because Virgil knows he is focused 100 per cent on our team and is training well,” he said.
“He wants to improve his performances because obviously he was injured in (January) and then he didn’t play any games.
“Obviously we cannot control the (transfer) market and every single transfer window clubs are looking to buy our players.
“But we are looking for players to try to improve our squad too. It’s part of our job.
“Football today is a big business – and we have to understand this. Now clubs are fighting in the market to find the best player and we have a lot of good players – it’s part of our job.
“It’s no secret that sometimes players are distracted but it’s normal.”
Pellegrino seeks morale-boosting result
Southampton have lost numerous players to Liverpool over recent years, but in Pellegrino they have a man who has gone the other way, albeit via a few other pit stops.
The former Argentina international spent time at Anfield in both playing and coaching capacities, before going it alone as a manager in his own right.
Now Saints manager Pellegrino returns to Liverpool in need of a morale-boosting result.
The search for more attractive, open football after Claude Puel has yet to pay dividends and the 1-0 home defeat to Burnley saw Southampton fail to score for the ninth time 12 top-flight home games.
“When we think about the last 10 games we have had the same problem but we have to be more efficient and we need a really, really high number of chances to convert into goals,” Pellegrino said at an event organised by sponsors Virgin Media.
“We could try to play in a different way but for Southampton’s confidence we need to find different solutions because professionally I think the connection we all have could not get any better.”
Pellegrino knows pressure is growing from the stands, though, perhaps too in the boardroom.
“The most beautiful thing in our life: to try and be better tomorrow than today,” he said.
“But the big risk in football is to work in football. It’s like the biggest risk is to be alive, no? When you’re on the motorway, you are taking a big risk. But in our job to work in football we are living for results.”