It hasn’t quite had the daily twists and turns of Neymar-to-PSG, nor the animosity of some of the great transfer controversies over the years, but Virgil van Dijk’s situation at Southampton is quickly developing into the juiciest Premier League transfer saga of the summer.
After allegations of tampering, solo training, media leaks and much more, the latest update came via an official statement from van Dijk himself on Monday. The 26-year-old Dutch center back has handed in a transfer request, definitively signaling his intent to leave Southampton, and making it even more likely that he will soon become the most expensive defender in the world.
Van Dijk didn’t stop at the transfer request, though. In the 12-paragraph statement, which can be read in full below, the defender revealed that the club is trying to fine him; claimed he repeatedly made both old manager Claude Puel and new manager Mauricio Pellegrino aware of his wish to leave over the past six months; described himself as “frustrated,” “disappointed” and “insulted”; said there have been “inquiries from multiple top clubs” that “have been consistently rebuffed”; essentially accused Southampton of leaking private conversations to the media; and denied reports that he had refused to train.
So, uh, yeah, there’s a lot to digest here. Let’s start with the one thing that isn’t exactly news.
Van Dijk wants out, “top clubs” want to buy him, but Southampton won’t sell
The exact timeline is unclear, but van Dijk has had designs on bolting for a bigger club since the beginning of the summer. He was courted by Liverpool before Southampton accused the Reds of tampering, forcing Jurgen Klopp to (temporarily) end his pursuit. Southampton was well within its right with the accusation, but it was more a power move as the club tried to retain van Dijk than an actual complaint. Tampering, or “tapping up,” occurs all the time. Southampton reported Liverpool’s to complicate the Anfield club’s efforts to buy a player the Saints had no intention to sell.
Liverpool appeared to be the heavy favorite for van Dijk before the accusation, but wasn’t the only club reportedly interested. Chelsea and Manchester City, the Premier League’s two title favorites, have also been linked. Southampton, though, is doing everything it can to hold onto its most valuable player. The club’s refusal to sell has irritated van Djik.
“Over the past six months I have held numerous discussions with representatives of the board, the former manager Claude Puel as well as the new manager Mauricio Pellegrino to inform them all of my desire to leave the club in search of a new challenge,” he said in the statement.
“I want to play European football again and challenge for major honours and as such I would like Southampton to consider the interest in me from top clubs should it still exist.
“I have been left frustrated by the club’s position that I am not for sale and am disappointed that enquiries from multiple top clubs have been consistently rebuffed.”
Van Dijk’s decision to release a statement puts pressure on Southampton to sell
The more acrimonious the relationship between van Dijk and Southampton becomes, the less valuable his presence is to the club. He’s still just as valuable to other clubs, though, so as his value to Southampton decreases, the Saints are increasingly likely to sell. If a scenario where van Dijk stays, performs up to his ability and at least feigns satisfaction becomes implausible, Southampton will be left with no choice.
The dynamics of this relationship work both ways. Southampton can try to pretend that everything is rosy, and can try to cater to van Dijk all it wants, but if van Djik makes the relationship unworkable, there isn’t much the club can do. And if van Djik wants to leave, he has an incentive to make it unworkable.
He moved in that direction Monday. By revealing Southampton’s “intention to impose a disciplinary sanction against me of a fine equivalent to 2 weeks wages,” and by stating his disappointment that “private and personal conversations” have “regularly found their way into the media,” van Dijk made it clear that all is not well.
Southampton’s decision to have him train alone also puts pressure on the club to sell
Another issue is that Southampton hasn’t exactly tried to soothe van Dijk at every turn. If the player’s side of the story is to be believed, Pellegrino effectively exiled him from first-team training after he made it explicit that he wasn’t committed to the cause.
“I have never refused to train,” van Dijk said in the statement, denying reports to the contrary. “I can confirm that I was asked about my frame of mind and for all the reasons mentioned above, I was open and honest in saying that I did not feel I was in a settled mindset given the circumstances.
“Following this conversation the manager explained that he only wanted players who he felt were 100% committed to Southampton and told me I would therefore have to train away from the first team.”
And that’s understandable. It’s likely beneficial for the two dozen or so other players who are in training. But in exiling van Dijk, Southampton essentially committed to selling him. And other clubs know that. The Saints, therefore, bid adieu to any leverage they held in transfer negotiations.
At one point earlier in the summer, that leverage was plentiful. Southampton had one of the best defenders in the Premier League in his prime, with several seasons of high-level production ahead of him, on a contract that runs through 2021-22, and with multiple wealthy bidders champing at the bit. Many of those aspects of van Dijk’s value remain in place. But the long contract means little if keeping the Dutchman is no longer a viable option.
The resolution to the van Dijk saga could decide the Premier league
Even if the price will be held down by Southampton’s diminished leverage, van Dijk should still become the most expensive defender ever by the end of the month. Assuming he leaves — and that now appears to be a probability, if it wasn’t already — he should command a fee upwards of the £52 million Man City paid to Monaco for Benjamin Mendy earlier this summer. Earlier in the summer, Liverpool’s offer was reportedly £60 million.
And at £60 million, van Dijk would be worth every pound. He was one of the top-five center backs in the Premier League last year, and his comprehensive skill set would allow him to fit into almost any system. He should slot into his new team immediately, and his presence at the heart of Liverpool’s, Man City’s or Chelsea’s defense could tip the title odds.
If City can procure him, Pep Guardiola will have filled his biggest need, and left City’s first-choice 11 without a weakness. If Liverpool can, van Dijk would immediately become the team’s top defender, and would shore up a shoddy back line that kept Klopp’s team at a distance from the top two last season.
Van Dijk makes less sense at Chelsea, where a back three of David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Caesar Azpilicueta was entrenched for much of last season. Antonio Conte also parted with £29 million to bring in Anthony Rudiger, who could relieve either Cahill or Azpilicueta. But van Dijk is better than all three, and would give Conte the flexibility to mix in a four-at-the-back system. A four-man defense of Marcos Alonso, Luiz, van Dijk and Azpilicueta would be stellar. One with Alonso, Cahill, van Dijk and Azpilicueta, with Luiz in midfield, would be even more difficult to break down.
Should the 26-year-old arrive at either Chelsea or City in the coming weeks, that team might just become the Premier League favorite. Should he arrive at Anfield, he would take Liverpool from the fringes of the top four to the fringes of the title race. Either way, a van Dijk sale could be pivotal in a top-of-the-table battle that promises to be as fierce as ever.
Van Dijk’s full statement
“Unfortunately I feel I have no alternative after I was given notice of the Club’s intention to impose a disciplinary sanction against me of a fine equivalent to 2 weeks wages. I will be appealing what I feel to be an unjustified sanction and their inability to follow the correct disciplinary protocol in due course.
Over the past six months I have held numerous discussions with representatives of the board, the former manager Claude Puel as well as the new manager Mauricio Pellegrino to inform them all of my desire to leave the club in search of a new challenge.
I am incredibly ambitious and want to achieve as much as I possibly can to fulfill my potential in what is a very short career as a professional footballer. I want to play European football again and challenge for major honours and as such I would like Southampton to consider the interest in me from top clubs should it still exist.
I have been left frustrated by the club’s position that I am not for sale and am disappointed that enquiries from multiple top clubs have been consistently rebuffed.
The period of time that I have just spent injured and unable to play has put a number of things into perspective and made me realise just how important it is to take major opportunities should they arise.
I have consistently relayed my feelings to senior management at Southampton in what I believed to be private and personal conversations. Disappointingly, these conversations have regularly found their way into the media.
I would also like to make clear that I have never once refused to train. I can confirm that I was asked about my frame of mind and for all of the reasons mentioned above I was open and honest in saying that I did not feel I was in a settled mindset given the circumstances.
Following this conversation the manager explained that he only wanted players who he felt were 100% committed to Southampton and told me I would therefore have to train away from the first team.
As a proud professional I am insulted by the suggestion that it was me who refused to train and so feel it is important to point out the true version of events.
I had very much hoped to retain the good relationship I’ve always enjoyed with everyone at the club, especially the fans, but unfortunately in light of everything that’s happened this has now been seriously affected.
I would like to make clear that I have nothing but gratitude to everyone at Southampton for giving me the opportunity to play in the Premier League.
However, the time for me to move on is now and I hope to be able to work with the club to find the best resolution to suit all parties.”
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