FORMER Republic of Ireland international David O’Leary admitted he was shocked when Southampton bought Virgil van Dijk.
The Saints paid £13million for the Celtic centre-half on deadline day in August 2015.
And O’Leary, who brother Pierce played for the Hoops in the eighties, was astonished the south coast outfit had no opposition in their move for the 25-year-old Dutch ace.
O’Leary believes Van Dijk is a better player than two central defenders who cost more than twice as much – Manchester City duo Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi.
He said: “Would I take them?’ Mangala and Otamendi? No.
“John Stones I would have bought even if it is ridiculous money. Eric Bailly? Yes – and I was amazed there were not more takers for Virgil van Dijk.”
O’Leary, who paid £6million to sign Mark Viduka from the Parkhead side for Leeds United in the summer of 2000, applauded former St Mary’s boss Ronald Koeman who sealed the deal.
The Southampton gaffer saw the value of his fellow-Dutchman while others were reluctant to bid for a player who excelled week in, week out in a supposedly inferior league.
Koeman, of course, had already raided the Scottish champions for goalkeeper Fraser Forster to place alongside midfielder Victor Wanyama – his club paying a combined £20million for the double-act – and had no hesitation in completing the move.
Ex-Hoops gaffer Neil Lennon signed Van Dijk from Groningen for £2.6million in June 2013 and his value has soared in the English top flight.
Everton, now managed by Koeman, Liverpool and Manchester City have all been linked with a swoop in next month’s transfer window.
Saints legend Matt Le Tissier believes interested clubs will have to pay a fee in the region of £50million for the Holland international.
Celtic have a sell-on clause in his contract and stand to pick up a £5million windfall if their ex-player moves on.
They have already benefited from Wanywa’s switch to Spurs at the start of the season.