Luke Osman questions whether Virgil van Dijk should be a more permanent member of the Dutch national team after impressing for Southampton.

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For a number of years now, Netherlands have prided themselves on their abundance of creative, attacking talent within the nation and its national team.

There has never really been a problem with scoring goals. Whether that be in the era of Marco van Basten or the next generation in which we find Vincent Janssen showing himself as the nation’s next striking enigma – goals have always been free flowing.

However, at the other end of the pitch, there hasn’t exactly been too much to shout about when it comes to defenders in recent times. It feels like the days of Frank de Boer or Ronald Koeman being the renowned defensive stalwarts are long gone and there are clear frailties within the defensive setup of the Netherlands.

It’s been this way for a number of years now, but who could be the answer to Danny Blind’s side’s tendency to concede silly goals? Look no further than Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk.

The 25-year-old central defender was signed by the Premier League side on the final day of the Summer 2015 transfer window in an attempt to replace Toby Alderweireld, who now plies his trade with Saints’ fellow top flight rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and it’s an acquisition that has certainly seen Saints reap the rewards.

At first, there were concerns surrounding van Dijk’s capabilities to make the huge step up in quality from Scottish football to the top flight of English football. However, those concerns were soon put to bed after the Dutchman showed just how good a defender he truly was.

Van Dijk signed for a £13 million fee – a sizable one by Southampton’s standards – meaning that expectations were considerably high of the powerful defender. However, van Dijk is a player that thrives off these pressures and expectations as he continues to get better and better with each game that he plays on the south coast.

It could quite easily be argued that, despite making the odd slip-up in his maiden season in the Premier League, he has not yet had a bad game for Southampton. This speaks volumes for a defender who has been so often relied upon in the red and white shirt of Saints and given that he comes up against some of the world’s most elite players on a weekly basis. He is, for me, one of the most underrated defenders in world football.

It seems as though only the Southampton fans appreciate just how sensational he is. Van Dijk managed to swoop two awards at the end of last season for Southampton alone – Players’ Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year. His colleagues and his fans know how good he is, so why is he not in the first-team picture for Netherlands at an international level more?

The stats don’t lie with van Dijk, either. Last season, he won more aerial duels than any other player in the whole of the Premier League with an absolutely outstanding 158 to his name.

Along with his dominance in the air, van Dijk is excellent on the ball. He consistently brings the ball out of defence and into the opposition half to take the pressure off the team and to create openings for his teammates. This is a perfect suit to the traditional Dutch ethos of comfortability on the ball and the ability to play out from the back.

As I previously alluded to, van Dijk comes up against some of the world’s best strikers in one of the world’s best leagues. Can this honestly be said about the current crop of Dutch centre-backs that are in contention? I really don’t think so.

This isn’t any detriment to the other defenders within the national team set-up, but van Dijk is, for me, head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to defensive responsibilities. Everything from his aura to his conduct to his ability is absolutely superb.

This isn’t to say that van Dijk can do it all on his own, either. It will take more than just the Saints defender to keep the goals out for the Netherlands. However, if he can form a good partnership with his fellow defenders on a consistent basis, he’ll bring so much more confidence and solidity to the back-line.

So, if clean sheets and confidence are the order from Danny Blind, why should he look beyond Virgil van Dijk?

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