Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman is “really proud” to have Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk as the captain of his national team.
The pair worked together for a season at Southampton after Koeman bought his compatriot Van Dijk for £13m from Celtic in 2015.
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The 28-year-old has since won the Champions League with Liverpool and picked up the award for UEFA Men’s Player of the Year for 2018/19.
Koeman selected Van Dijk as the captain for Netherlands in 2018 and the manager says: “He has a great personality and also one of the reasons he is the captain. He is an example for the team and an example for the nation. We are really proud to have him as a captain in the national team.
“Winning the title of best European player is an incredible achievement for him. He had great support from the people in Southampton.
“He had great support with the staff and supporters of Liverpool. They won the Champions League last season, they’re doing really well and they are strong.”
The Dutch national team have endured a tough period recently, missing out on qualification for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, but Koeman’s side are on the rise after reaching the Nations League final and beating Germany 4-2 away from home to boost their Euro 2020 prospects.
Koeman said: “We have a small nation but we expect a lot of big things in football. It’s not always normal that you will qualify for a big tournament. At the moment we are back.
“First of all it’s the quality of the players. Always producing in Holland good big talents and sometimes they take more time than people expect.
“We knew it’s a difficult situation because we did not qualify for the two big tournaments. It’s like golf – it goes up, it goes down, up, down. Maybe it was the same for Holland but at the moment we are enjoying the football.
“We know we have a good strong squad with top players in Europe performing in big clubs. It’s really a good example for the players still in Holland playing football.
“The results we achieved in the last few months are really positive. That makes the team stronger and the players confident. The ambition is key to this squad at the moment because they are showing incredible belief and great spirit at the moment.
Netherlands currently sit three points behind Group C’s joint-leaders Germany and Northern Ireland with a game in hand, and face a crucial fixture against Northern Ireland in Rotterdam on Thursday.
When asked about the match with Northern Ireland, Koeman replied: “They have a great ambition. Maybe in Holland we have the better players in big clubs in Europe but that doesn’t always make a team strong.
“I was impressed with Northern Ireland and how they played against Germany at home. For one hour in the game they were the better team, created the better chances and had an unbelievable spirit.
“They were aggressive and we expect that team this week and we need to prepare ourselves for that in the best way possible.”
Watch Netherlands take on Northern Ireland in their European Qualifier on Thursday, live on Sky Sports Main Event; kick-off 7.45pm.