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