Southampton manager Claude Puel is eager to keep captain Virgil van Dijk from the clutches of Chelsea, stressing a desire to retain his best players this summer. Van Dijk, 25, has been the subject of much speculation in recent months, and Antonio Conte's side are believed to be one of a host of clubs ready to part with as much as £50m (€59.1m) in order to prise the Dutchman away from Stamford Bridge.
The Saints, who are set to visit Chelsea on Tuesday (25 April), are no strangers to selling their best players and are admired for how they cope with losing their key assets, but Puel hopes the south coast outfit can buck that trend this summer.
"I cannot prevent all the newspapers from speculating about him," Puel said in his press conference. "It's always the same thing, [Van Dijk] has a long contract with Southampton, he's our captain, he's very important for us and I want him for next season. He cannot play until the end of the season but now he works normally and recovers. He will be available for training soon.
"I hope we can keep all our good players, it's important to continue the work with individual players, it will be important to keep them and also to took take information about different players. This is not just to speak about Virgil, he's a Southampton player and our captain."
Puel later turned his attention from his crown jewel to one of Chelsea's. Midfielder N'Golo Kante was named the Professional Footballers' Association's player of the year on Sunday as a reward for his fine performances at the heart of Conte's engine room, and Puel was very complimentary of his compatriot.
The former Lyon boss, who confirmed that Charlie Austin is not in contention to face the Premier League leaders, seemed to have no qualms with Kante winning the award but believes Southampton midfield general Oriol Romeu is approaching the Frenchman's level, and tipped the Barcelona youth graduate to break into the Spanish national team.
"He's an important player for Chelsea because he can do fantastic work to recover the ball and start play," the Southampton boss added. "For me N'golo has the same qualities as Romeu, without Kante it's difficult for Chelsea and without Romeu it's tough for us. It [the player of the year trophy] is a good reward for him, he does fantastic work.
"I think [Romeu] is not far off Kante. We have seen the quality of his game since the start of the season, for me he's not far off because he's consistent, every game he gives a good performance and he's strong at recovering the ball. He's not always on the television but we will see in the future, I'm confident he can become a part of Spain team. He learnt with Barcelona, that's clear to see."
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