Van Dijk saga turns unsavoury but Saints should be lauded for staying firm
Virgil van Dijk has helped Southampton's new manager Mauricio Pellegrino score an early PR win with the club's fans.
Now their board have to back the Argentine by delivering on their promise to keep Van Dijk at least until the end of the upcoming season and stand up to player power.
By effectively sending van Dijk into exile, Pellegrino has struck a blow not only for Saints but for every so-called smaller Premier League side who are bullied by their more illustrious rivals and egotistical players.
However the real test of Southampton's determination not to cash in on their sought-after captain is still to come.
How many clubs of Saints' stature have claimed a player will not be sold, only to go back on their word once that star name begins creating friction on the changing room?
As recently as January, West Ham were forced to offload Dimitri Payet to Marseille after the Frenchman announced he no longer wanted to play for the club.
Even Arsenal are fighting what appears to be a losing battle to keep star man Alexis Sanchez from the clutches of Paris Saint-Germain.
Southampton were adamant they did not want to sell Adam Lallana to Liverpool three years ago before claiming the England midfielder would go on strike days before he completed the move. It would be no surprise if the Van Dijk saga came to the same conclusion as that of Payet and Lallana.
Making it public Van Dijk wants to leave could be a clever ploy from Southampton to draw Liverpool and Chelsea -- both of whom want to sign the former Celtic centre back -- into a bidding war.
And if Van Dijk does follow the likes of Lallana, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren out of St Mary's at the very least Pellegrino's claims will ensure he leaves as a villain, taking the heat off transfer guru Les Reed and his fellow directors.
It is hard for most boards to dismiss offers of up to £70 million, especially once a player has had their head turned as appears the case with Van Dijk. But selling him, particularly to Liverpool after the tapping up allegations, would leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Southampton followers, supporters who have had many a reason to question football's morality in recent years. Supporters scorned by two managers in Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman and left heartbroken by the departures of an entire team of terrace heroes.
When Southampton stood up to Liverpool so publicly in June those fans had their faith in the beautiful game partially restored, not least because Van Dijk himself only signed a lucrative six-year contract to become the best paid player in their history just last summer. They also remember how the imperious Dutchman spoke about his "pride" at the "honour" of being given the captain's armband following Jose Fonte's exit to West Ham in January.
Where is Van Dijk's pride now as he trains alone while the rest of his teammates head off on a preseason tour of France? Where was his honour when he held alleged secret meetings with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp about a move to Anfield? Van Dijk should have been stripped of the armband as soon as those tawdry details began to emerge on newspaper back pages. That he wasn't was down to Southampton's belief he would act like a model professional, accept their decision not to sell and get his head down and prepare for the season in the right manner.
But Van Dijk clearly has other ideas and continues to hanker over that switch to Merseyside. Now it is up to Southampton to show him bullies do not always win.
Alex Crook is ESPN FC's Southampton blogger. Follow him on Twitter @alex_crook