EUROPA LEAGUE

Boy­ata will be wary of a fa­mil­iar foe when Fener­bahce come call­ing

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - NEIL CAMERON

FOR a man who might not even play at all on Thurs­day night, a lot has been said about Robin van Per­sie in re­cent days.

The Celtic play­ers and coach­ing staff are not buy­ing into the the­ory clearly be­ing put for­ward by Fener­bahce coach Vi­tor Pereira, that the Dutch­man, at 32, can­not cut it any more at the top level.

In­ter­est­ingly, van Per­sie has ac­tu­ally played well and scored goals dur­ing his cameo roles off the bench for the Turk­ish club, who thought him so good that in the sum­mer they of­fered him a con­tract worth many mil­lions of pounds a year. If only Celtic had that much money to splash on a sub­sti­tute.

Dedryck Boy­ata, the Celtic de­fender, has ac­tu­ally played against the player who, at his peak, was un­ques­tion­ably one of the world’s best strik­ers. It was the Bel­gian’s mis­for­tune that when given the chance to test him­self against such a tal­ent, it was to­wards the end of van Per­sie’s time at Ar­se­nal, when he could do no wrong, and the then Manch­ester City man was on loan at Bolton Wan­der­ers, who were a man down. If van Per­sie does get on in to­mor­row night’s Europa League qual­i­fiers then surely the cen­tre-half will be in for a less tax­ing evening.

“I re­mem­ber play­ing against van Per­sie for Bolton and it was tough. Very tough,” re­called Boy­ata. “I came on as a sub­sti­tute at cen­tre-back and we were 10 v 11 at the Emi­rates, which made it even harder.

“We all know van Per­sie. Wher­ever you go, if you say his name to peo­ple, they know he is a real qual­ity player.

“He’s just a re­ally good and re­ally dan­ger­ous player. Fener­bahce are a team full of qual­ity play­ers but he is the main guy we need to watch.

“As a de­fender and a football lover, I’ve watched him play and his move­ment is great and he can hold the ball up well. He’s tech­ni­cally good and he scores goals easily. He’s got a lot of pos­i­tive qual­i­ties.”

And yet, he can’t get a game for Fener­bahce. How does that hap­pen?

Boy­ata said: “Fener­bahce’s team are full of qual­ity play­ers but I didn’t know he was not get­ting a start. That just means the per­son who is play­ing in his place must be re­ally good.”

They weren’t so good two weeks ago when Molde de­servedly beat them 3-1 in Is­tan­bul, a re­sult that few out­side of the Nor­we­gian cham­pi­ons saw com­ing. Boy­ata, how­ever, still be­lieves that this week’s op­po­nents will be the tough­est op­po­si­tion Celtic will have faced so far this sea­son come to­mor­row’s meet­ing.

“You never know what can hap­pen in Euro­pean games,” he said. “But be­fore you play the games, on pa­per you can say which team you think is strong­est, and I think on pa­per Fener­bahce are the strong­est team in the group.

“Nani is the same [as van Per­sie]. He is a re­ally good winger and a tech­ni­cally ex­cel­lent player. He can score with a range of strikes from near and far out. They are all qual­ity play­ers, they have ex­cel­lent de­fend­ers and in the mid­field too. They are good play­ers but this is a good chance for us to make a state­ment at Celtic Park, where it is al­ways dif­fi­cult for op­po­nents.”

Stu­art Armstrong has been train­ing with the squad again af­ter five weeks out with a back in­jury. The midfielder, in such good form at the start of the sea­son, has not played since that aw­ful night in Malmo. Even if Armstrong only makes the bench, he will be a welcome sight for Ronny Deila.

Carl­ton Cole re­turned to Glas­gow af­ter the week­end, an in­di­ca­tion that a deal for the for­mer West Ham United player might well be close to hap­pen­ing.

He won’t be el­i­gi­ble for Euro­pean games un­til the knock­out stages, but a win for Celtic would put them four points clear of Fener­bahce and well on the way to qual­i­fy­ing out of their group.

DUTCH COURAGE: Dedryck Boy­ata is rel­ish­ing the chance to test him­self against Hol­land striker Robin van Per­sie again

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