Every season we witness players that master their craft to such an expert level, that they get a chance to compete on the grandest stage. With the resurgence of the quality that lies within the English sides, both Tottenham Hotspurs and Liverpool still remain in this seasons Champions League. Two individuals that have goals of reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League are Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutchman was lucky enough to compete in last year’s final, where he and his Liverpool side fell short to Real Madrid. Optimism was bolstered this season for van Dijk and Liverpool as extra additions to the side have turned them into an unstoppable force. As for Wanyama, this is his first legitimate chance to battle for the most coveted trophy in football. Two very different players, with very similar paths. While each of them has the desire to bring pride to themselves and their families, both have made everyone at Celtic Football Club extremely proud. The club that had the privilege in being a key component of their individual success, could enjoy seeing their former players headline the Champions League final.
Virgil van Dijk
“He was very mature even at 21 or 22 when I had him. After a week I said enjoy yourself, you won’t be here long.” – Neil Lennon
His arrival at Celtic on 21 June 2013, for £2.6million, filled fans with optimism. He just looked like a quality player. Everyone in Scotland had been given a taste of the ability van Dijk had. He was also given his first opportunity to play in the Champions League. A 6-1 defeat in the Camp Nou did come with its positives; Barca could have scored 20! But it was down to a certain Dutch centre-back that prevented that from happening. van Dijk had experienced European football and achieved domestic success while he was at it. But he knew that it was just the start. The following season he would make a big impact.
With a new manager at Celtic in Ronny Deila, much media interest was circulating around how the players would deal with this change. van Dijk was eager to impress. If a centre back can stand out so much compared to everyone else in the entire league, then van Dijk knew how. Not only did he establish himself as the rock at the back of the Celtic defence, but he also decided to get in with the action at the other end of the pitch. From an aerial threat to a free-kick specialist. Celtic fans were running out of words to describe the Dutchman.
Celtic had been keeping an eye on Wanyama for a couple of years prior to his signing with the hoops. After a failed attempt to sign the Kenyan in 2010, Celtic stepped up their offer the year later and secured the signature of Victor Wanyama on 9 July 2011 for £900,000. Instantly Wanyama wrote himself into the history books as he became the first ever Kenyan to play in the SPL. Knowing much about the history of Celtic, Wanyama decided to make himself a fan favourite by selecting to wear the number 67 on his shirt. A number famous around the club for the success Celtic achieved in 1967 when they lifted the European Cup.
His first season at Celtic saw Wanyama find his feet in the team. Beginning the season in central defence allowed fans to witness the physical power that was at the core of Wanyama’s game. However, his brilliant technical ability suggested he may benefit the team further up the field. Coming into the new season, Neil Lennon intended on having Wanyama play in central midfield. This decision proved to be key in the European success that Celtic enjoyed that season.
If Victor Wanyama will be remembered for any one thing at Celtic, it would be the goal against Barca. A Celtic side full of belief were attempting to beat the best team on the planet. Coming into the game, everyone knew Barcelona would have all the possession. This meant that any chance Celtic had, they had to take. Early into the game Celtic won a corner, where they would hope to use their height advantage over the Barca players.
Wanyama headed Celtic into the lead against Barcelona and that will never be forgotten. With the help from his teammates, Wanyama and Celtic enjoyed a famous 2-1 victory against Barcelona. This performance earned the respect of Andres Iniesta, who admitted that Wanyama is one of the best opponents he has ever faced.
Changing course from Scotland to England
Their paths can’t get any more similar. Both Virgil van Dijk and Victor Wanyama found themselves with the desire to play greater opposition on a more regular basis. With interest from all over Europe, van Dijk and Wanyama preferred a move to the Premier League. Leaving on great terms with Celtic because of all the success and special moments they contributed to, the fans had no problem with their desire to change course.
Southampton came calling. On 11 July 2013, Victor Wanyama signed for Southampton and van Dijk was officially a Southampton player a couple of years later, on 1 September 2015. Both players were reportedly sold by Celtic for £12.5million.
With glory in mind, Southampton was just a stepping stone to a much bigger goal for each of these two talents. And of course, their performances attracted attention from the top 6 as they were competing with the big guns. Liverpool and Tottenham found themselves with two crucial acquisitions.
Liverpool was a fantastic attacking side that needed to bolster their defence with a superstar centre-back. A record transfer fee of £75million saw van Dijk become the most expensive defender in history.
Pochettino who had previously worked with Wanyama decided to bring him into his ongoing project at Tottenham when he signed for a fee of £11million.
Both have proved to be very influential players for their new clubs who have been catapulted into the highest level of football. van Dijk has been extremely impactful at Liverpool as defence, which was once their weakness, is now their strength. Currently being named the by many as the best defender in the world. Leading Liverpool to a Champions League final whilst captaining his country to the latter stages of the Nations League shows the kind of character he possesses.
What their success means to Celtic
Seeing everything that Wanyama and van Dijk are achieving has really touched Celtic deeply. To see a couple of former Celtic Park heroes now competing at the latter stages of the Champions League is something the club will be forever proud of. Neil Lennon, who has returned to the managerial position at Celtic, has frequently spoken of how proud he personally is to have been involved in the development of these two great players.
The two players also haven’t lost any support from the Celtic faithful who are supporting their individual teams on their behalf. Former Celtic player, Chris Sutton, has been open with his opinion that van Dijk may be the best player in the world right now.
Regardless of whether one of them eventually lifts the trophy, Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk will remain icons in Celtic’s recent history. If they do meet each other in the final, there may just be a few fans in green and white scattered around Madrid.