Van Hooijdonk: Ciftci and Griffiths make perfect pairing

Pierre van Hooijdonk. Picture: Allan Milligan
Pierre van Hooijdonk. Picture: Allan Milligan
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In terms of what he gave Celtic, Pierre van Hooijdonk is much in profit. His departure in 1997 after only two and a half years may have been hugely acrimonious, but his place in the club’s history was by then assured – courtesy of his winner in the 1995 Scottish Cup final that ended a six-year trophy drought.

However, the fact that Van Hooijdonk retains a vested interest in his old team’s goalscoring is currently on the debit side for the 45-year-old. As his agent, the Dutchman might be considered the man who gave Nadir Ciftci to Celtic. The 23-year-old has made almost no impression since his £1.5 million move from Dundee United in the summer but Van Hooijdonk maintains the player could be what he was to the Glasgow club – with Leigh Griffiths the Jorge Cadete of his free-scoring time.

That would involve nominally playing two up front, which Ronny Deila seems to feel conflicts with his desire to stick to a 4-2-3-1 system. The Norwegian is sure to stay true to his orthodoxy as Celtic host Ajax in tomorrow’s Europa League encounter that provides the Scottish champions with, essentially, a last chance to make any impression on Group A. Ciftci will surely remain benched for the clash.

Speaking as he promoted BT Sport’s coverage of the match, Van Hooijdonk, pictured, offered veiled criticism of perceived inflexibility from Deila as he ventured that Ciftci and Griffiths have the potential to form a partnership similar to the one he enjoyed with Cadete at Celtic. A link-up that yielded more than 50 goals...despite the pair playing only 11 months together.

“The thing is the coach sees him [Ciftci] as a No 9 and then he has to compete with a real No 9 in Leigh Griffiths,” said Van Hooijdonk. “They are two completely different strikers. Leigh is more a poacher and a goalscorer than Nadir is. Nadir has other attributes. He can hold up the ball a bit better, his link-up play is better. You also need to realise at Dundee United Jackie McNamara let him play from the left. In that role I haven’t seen him yet. At Celtic he just seems to play No 9 or sit on the bench.

“Forget just the game on Thursday, I said when Nadir signed that looking at the qualities of both Leigh Griffiths and him – not just the qualities they have but the qualities they don’t have – they would be the perfect combination.

“I always find it a pity when you have two good strikers but you play one. In my day – football has changed a bit but it’s still 11 v 11 – I was playing with Simon Donnelly then Andreas Thom. Then when Jorge Cadete came he was my partner up front. If you compare the two of us with the two of them now, Jorge was much more the Leigh Griffiths. I was much more the Nadir. I also liked to be involved in the link-up play and so on. Jorge was always in the box.

“At the beginning at Celtic they were all shouting at me ‘get in the box, get in the box’ because at that time we didn’t really have somebody else there. But when Cadete came, he always was. So even though I was still playing the same game, nobody shouted any more for me to get in the box because we always had somebody there. That is what I saw as a total combination and it worked really well.”

Watch Celtic v Ajax in the Uefa Europa League live and exclusive on BT Sport 2 from 7.30pm tomorrow. Visit btsport.com/Europe for more info’