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Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino insists “everything is normal” with Virgil van Dijk as the Dutch defender returns to first-team contention.
The Holland international has been reintegrated into the senior squad having been training on his own after handing in a transfer request at the start of August.
The 26-year-old had made it clear he wanted the club to take up the interest from Liverpool, who issued a public apology in June following suggestions of an improper approach for the centre-back.
While it may yet be too early for Van Dijk, who has been recovering from an ankle injury sustained at the end of January, to be considered for an instant return to match-day action , Saints boss Pellegrino insists it is now very much a case of business as usual.
“Now he is training with the team again. It depends on the player now.” Pellegrino said at a press conference ahead of Saturday’s Premier League match against Watford.
“We know he is coming from a long period of time without playing, he needs to train and to play games, but we will decide in the future.
“The best thing in football is that you have to show on the pitch how you are, but now everything is normal, and this is good news for us.”
Pellegrino added: “I always talk to my players, and I have done with Virgil, but it is something private. But I repeat – now everything is normal, he is training with the team, he is at the same level training with us.”
Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger had been adamant that Van Dijk was not for sale and said keeping the defender is ”the statement we need to make”.
With the south-coast club looking to move forwards after owner Katharina Liebherr announced they had entered into a partnership with Chinese businessman Jisheng Gao and his family, manager Pellegrino feels standing their ground shows the Saints mean business.
“It is a message that at this moment, we don’t need to sell our best players, and we need to keep our best players to be more competitive,” said Pellegrino, who was appointed in the summer following the departure of Claude Puel.
“It is a message from the owners, the board, our chairman and directors, it is really good.
“We are now in a situation where making a small step will be really difficult for us, and to achieve this, we had to keep our best players, to work with them and to build a team, that is the most difficult thing.”
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