THE temptation is to say that Virgil van Dijk does not know how goalkeepers work because he never lets the ball get near them.
When the excellent Celtic centre-half was asked to compare his fellow Dutchman Edwin van der Sar and his current team-mate Fraser Forster yesterday he freely admitted that no-one should expect a detailed technical analysis of their strengths.
More statistics than shots are being fired at Forster right now, the most pertinent of them being that he has gone 1035 minutes of SPFL Premiership football without conceding a goal. The Scottish league record is the 1155 minutes Bobby Clark of Aberdeen managed in 1970/71. The next target after that is the 1311 minutes of league football without conceding a goal set by Van der Sar at Manchester United in 2009. The all-time European top-flight record is the 1390 minutes set by Belgian goalkeeper Dany Verlinden of Bruges in 1990.
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Van der Sar was the most highly-decorated of that quartet of goalkeepers. The former Ajax, Juventus, Fulham and United goalkeeper retired three years ago but 130 international caps ensured his status as one of the Netherlands' all-time greats. "It's difficult to say how Fraser compares to van der Sar," said Van Dijk. "Both of them are amazing. Van der Sar was an unbelievable goalkeeper in his time with Manchester United. Fraser is so good and is getting better. They are both amazing goalkeepers.
"Van der Sar is a big figure in Dutch football. He had a lot respect and was a phenomenal player. He was captain of Holland at the 2006 World Cup. He played at the highest level for a long time and Fraser can do the same.
"I don't look at specific qualities of a goalkeeper. I just look at how they save shots. I see Fraser doing things that are just unbelievable. He is an amazing goalkeeper. It's probably different being a goalkeeper at Celtic than other teams. You need to stay sharp because there may only be one or two saves to make during a game. It must be hard but that's what Fraser does for us.
"Fraser is a phenomenal goalkeeper, one of the best in the world. Throughout this season he has shown he is a world-class goalkeeper and he has proved himself in the Champions League. I think he should go to the World Cup this summer and if I was the coach of England I would certainly put Fraser as my No.1. However, I think the whole team should be proud of the record. The back four and Fraser have done a good job and we are very proud of that. It is not easy to be unbeaten for as many games as we have and hopefully we will be able to beat the record."
Forster conceded nine goals in his past two Champions League ties against AC Milan and Barcelona but the last man to score a goal against him in Scotland was Niall McGinn of Aberdeen in the 45th minute of a 3-1 Celtic win at Parkhead on November 23. That fact is intriguing given that the purpose of Van Dijk's media conference yesterday was to promote ticket sales for Aberdeen's return on Scottish Cup duty in three days' time.
"I think everybody wants to be the first ones to score a goal or win a game against us," said Van Dijk. "I hope that's not going to happen. I think people looking in on Celtic from outside will give us respect. Some people will say the Scottish league is too easy for us but we still have to win games and we still have to not concede goals, and that's not as easy as people think.
"Aberdeen is going to be a tough game for us. They have a good spirit now, they are winning games, and they played a good game last game they played, the 4-0 [against St Johnstone]. We are also in a good mood and we have to win the game and be at our best. They are a danger, of course, because they are a good team. They have quality. We have to be at our best. If we are, we are going to win the game."
The meeting of Scotland's two strongest teams will have additional spice, unfortunately, because of the abuse of Celtic manager Neil Lennon by a handful of Aberdeen fans when he turned up to watch them at Tynecastle on Saturday. "It was terrible to see what happened to the manager but I think there were only a couple of people doing it," said Van Dijk.
"Sometimes stuff like that happens in Holland, too. I think it happens everywhere in the world. A couple of people behave like that and they ruin it for the other people in the stadium, who will now be seen as the bad people. It would be terrible if these people pushed the manager to leave. But the manager is a great person and I'm very positive nothing will happen."