Leeds United could’ve signed Virgil van Dijk but controversial former owner Massimo Cellino turned down the chance in favour of another deal.
That’s according to Graham Bean, who worked as an advisor to the Italian supremo during his tenure at Elland Road, as he revealed that ex-manager David Hockaday suggested the Dutch colossus whilst he was at Celtic.
“I got on well with Dave and he was a really nice bloke, as was his assistant Junior Lewis,” he told the Daily Mail. “But the reality was they were both out of their depth at Leeds.
“Dave did, however, identify two outstanding players that would have transformed the club. One was a certain van Dijk, then at Celtic.”
Cellino went on to sign an unknown centre-back from the Serie A in Giuseppe Bellusci, who cost around £1.6m. “Unfortunately Cellino ignored him and signed Giuseppe Bellusci on loan from Italian side Catania,” he added.
“Bellusci thrived on an undeserved hard-man reputation. He made his debut in a 4-1 defeat to Watford and things didn’t improve much from there – he wasn’t liked by many of his teammates or the club staff.”
The 33-year-old went on to make 61 appearances for the Yorkshire giants, scoring just twice, before leaving for Serie A outfit Empoli on loan just two years later and then left the club permanently to Palermo on a free transfer.
Meanwhile, in that time, Van Dijk swapped Celtic Park for Southampton before sealing a then world-record £75m move to Liverpool in January 2018, where he has since won the Premier League and Champions League.
It’s widely thought that the Netherlands international, who has been lauded as a “monster” by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, is among the best defenders in world football, so had Cellino listened to the advice of his manager, Hockaday, then Van Dijk may well have been an absolute colossus for Leeds, rather than Southampton.
What a catastrophic blunder that has turned out to be, though it’s not the only or worst that the volatile Cellino made during his time at Elland Road.