Van Dijk sympathises with Koeman

VIRGIL van Dijk has revealed that he is grateful to Ronald Koeman and “understands” why the Dutch boss departed Saints for Everton last summer.

Koeman will return to St Mary’s tomorrow with the Toffees for the first time since he left following two enormously successful seasons.

After back-to-back record breaking Premier League campaigns at Saints, Koeman walked out after failing to agree terms of an extended contract and was subsequently lured by big money on Merseyside.

It was a decision that riled supporters and surprised Van Dijk, but the 25-year-old has sympathised with his former manager’s decision after Saints put Koeman in what he believes was “a difficult situation”.

The central defender, who was brought to the south coast by Koeman from Celtic for £13m in the summer of 2015, is adamant however that Saints have now moved on and are happy under Claude Puel.

“I was surprised,” Van Dijk said about Koeman’s departure. “Upset is not the right word. It was his decision and in the end I understand a bit of his decision.

“They [Saints] put him in a difficult situation and I think everyone was surprised, but we have moved on.

“We have a good coach now and getting the maximum out of us. It takes a bit of time but I am confident it will work.”

Van Dijk has spoken to Koeman since he left, but stated that the focus tomorrow will solely be on the football and doesn’t want to reminisce about “memories” of the former Feyenoord chief.

The Netherlands international labelled the reunion as “just another game”, but conceded that it is a big opportunity to get back to winning ways after failing to win in four Premier League games.

“I don’t speak about memories, but I have spoken to him but that is between him [Koeman] and me,” he said.

“I am very grateful for everything he has done for me. Now he is working for Everton and I am still playing for Southampton. I am focussing on my team and he is on his.”

“It is just another game,” he added. “We want to win, especially at home. We want to have the good feeling that we had last especially like the one against Liverpool.

“Sunday is going to be another big game to win and hopefully we will make that happen.”

Koeman is widely reviled by Saints supporters after the manner in which he left St Mary’s, but the team won’t be focused on any revenge mission against their former manager.

“It doesn’t really matter,” said Van Dijk. “We just have to focus on ourselves and our play and we have plenty of quality to win the game on Sunday.”

Despite an uninspiring recent run of two wins in eight games in all competitions, Van Dijk says that spirits are high and warned Saints not to panic.

Puel's men are still well placed in the Europa League to qualify for the last 32 and are in the quarter finals of the EFL Cup, although they have the unenviable task of playing Arsenal away in their last eight tie next Wednesday.

Van Dijk said: “We cannot panic. We play in Europe a lot of Premier League teams don’t play in Europe.

“We are still in the competition, everything is in our own hands so we need to win and we are still in the cup so everything is still going in the right way and we need to be confident and stay positive.”

Van Dijk has been linked in numerous gossip columns with a move away from St Mary’s after an impressive start to the campaign.

Liverpool have been widely touted as a potential destination, but the highly rated defender is not worried about a move.

“I have never heard anything,” he said about the transfer speculation. “I read a couple of things.

“I am focussing on Southampton now.”

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