Chelsea have stepped up their bid to sign Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk in recent days, but his £65m price tag is proving to be a major stumbling block, sources have told Yahoo Sport UK.
Southampton officials continue to insist publicly that they have no intention of selling Van Dijk this summer, but they have hinted privately that a deal can be done if their valuation is met.
While Chelsea have been linked with a move to sign 30-year-old Juventus centre-back Leonardo Bonucci, we understand that Stamford Bridge chiefs remain keen to pursue their interest in Van Dijk as he is five years younger than the experienced Italian.
Blues boss Antonio Conte is believed to favour a move for Bonucci, but he is a big admirer of Van Dijk and has given the green light for the transfer if a fee can be finalised with Southampton.
Yet that is proving to be the big issue in this potential move, with Southampton content to hold on to the player if they do not receive the lavish cash sum they are demanding.
Saints are still smarting from what they believe are ‘a series of illegal approaches for Van Dijk’ in recent months, with Liverpool taking the brunt of their public annoyance after they made a complaint to the Football Association over the Anfield club’s bid to sign Van Dijk.
Liverpool were forced to issue an embarrassing apology to Southampton for their underhand dealings in the pursuit of Van Dijk, yet Saints insiders believe Chelsea and Manchester City have also held talks with the players agent over a possible move, which has hardened Southampton’s stance towards granting the players wish to leave the club now.
“There are not a lot of quality centre-backs on the market and Virgil would enhance any Premier League team he joined,” a Southampton source told us.
“He signed a new contract last summer that runs for another four years and even if his agent is doing everything he can to get the move, the club have all the power in this situation.
“Southampton don’t want to sell Virgil van Dijk, but every player has a price and if a club wants to meet that price, maybe a deal can be done.”
Van Dijk is reported to be keen to move to Liverpool and the Anfield club are believed to retain an interest in Van Dijk, even though they stated they had withdrawn from the race to sign the Dutch defender in their apology to Southampton last month.
Yet Southampton are keen to avoid doing business with Liverpool after last month’s spat over Van Dijk and that could play into Chelsea’s hands if the Premier League champions are prepared to pay a world record fee for a centre-back to sign Van Dijk.
The £50m fee Manchester City paid to sign John Stones last summer has set the bench mark for the true value of a centre-back in the current market, with Southampton convinced Van Dijk is worth considerably more now.
Newly appointed Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino is ‘fully aware’ of the position surrounding Van Dijk’s future, with the club keen to resolve this matter as swiftly as possible as they look to reshape their squad ahead of the new season.
Southampton’s frosty relationship with Van Dijk’s agent will not help in the upcoming transfer negotiations and in the end, the player may be forced to accept he will not be making a move this summer unless his £65m valuation is met.
Scottish champions Celtic will also be huge winners in a potential mega-money move for Van Dijk, as they inserted a 10 per-cent sell-on clause in any profit made by on the player they sold to Southampton in the summer of 2015.