DCSIMG

Vennegoor of Hesselink is all ready to be a big name

IF HIS five years at PSV Eindhoven are anything to go by, Celtic fans won't take long warming to their newest recruit as they digest the mouth-watering Champions League showdown with Manchester United.

When Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink signed for Gordon Strachan last week for a reported 3.4m, the man with the weirdest name in European football left behind him a reputation as one of the most popular players in his homeland - and not just because of his loyalty and renowned marksmanship that yielded 132 goals in 299 Dutch club games.

And the Dutchman made an instant impression at Celtic Park yesterday, coming off the bench to net the winner against Hibs, giving every impression to the Hoops faithful that goals will just keep on coming.

Back in the spring of 2005, in the wake of a shattering and totally unjustified defeat to AC Milan in the Champions League semi-finals, PSV's training ground in a leafy suburb of the city was crammed full of young fans waiting for their idols to return after a short break.

Unlike many top clubs in Europe, who actively discourage supporters from mixing with the players, PSV make a habit of allowing those who pay the gate money to get a close-up of the squad and, after watching training for the best part of two hours, organised bedlam broke out as excited supporters rushed forward begging for autographs, signed shirts and scrapbook photos, arm-in-arm with their individual heroes.

For a few players, enough was enough when their hands become weary of constant scribbling but a couple stayed on till the bitter end, including a tall and powerfully built centre-forward who knows full well that his unique autograph is a collector's item wherever he travels round the world.

Vennegoor of Hesselink doesn't need reminding that only those with blue blood, or some kind of aristocratic ancestry, normally have names like his. Or that Scottish commentators are about to have nightmares. But if you think Celtic's latest import is of high-brow stock, think again. "Of" in Dutch simply means "or" in English.

"Separately Vennegoor and Hesselink are quite common names but it's rare for them to be put together," explained the Dutch international. who looks likely to make his Celtic debut against Aberdeen on September 9 after signing a three-year contract. "About 300 years ago, all the farms in eastern Holland had specific family names but when two of them intermarried, they carried equal social weight and were combined. I don't have any royalty in me. I wish I could say I did!"

On more than a few occasions, he has been asked by the footballing authorities to shorten Vennegoor of Hesselink to make it simpler for commentators and punters alike. No chance. "Other people don't shorten their names so why should I? I'm proud of the name. Shaun Wright-Phillips writes his whole name. He doesn't just put Wright, does he?"

Autograph hunters can pose a problem, however. "Sometimes if there are one or two standing alone, I'll give them my whole name but otherwise I just sign my initials. It only takes ten minutes or so to sign autographs but for the fans, they treasure them for years."

Which is exactly the kind of thoughtfulness that will endear Vennegoor of Hesselink to grass-roots fans in the green half of Glasgow. "He's just a normal, modest guy with no ego who works hard for the team and never shirks," is how one Dutch correspondent describes him.

Although his name may be his most identifiable factor, his football isn't bad either. The €5million PSV paid FC Twente, his hometown club, for his services back in the summer of 2001 was huge by Dutch standards but Vennegoor of Hesselink had an enviable reputation - 59 goals in five seasons for Twente. He didn't disappoint on the bigger stage either, scoring 22 in his first season at PSV. Although his second and third seasons proved less fruitful, with eight and 12 goals respectively, he regained his form in 2004-2005 with a further 19 in 28 games under the astute, cajoling man-management of Guus Hiddink, earning him a recall to the national squad after an absence of four and a half years.

The antithesis of a flash player, Vennegoor of Hesselink prides himself on being one of those old-fashioned centreforwards who relies on hard work, team play and attitude rather than natural skill, qualities which earned him a place in Holland's World Cup squad in June even though he only saw seven minutes of action. His hero, growing up in the east of Holland, was current Dutch boss Marco van Basten and although their styles could hardly be more different, the fact remains PSV invariably struggled whenever Jan wasn't in the starting 11, as much because of his hold-up play as his goals.

Mark van Bommel, the Dutch international midfielder who played for several years with Vennegoor of Hesselink at PSV, remarked: "If he's not playing well on the ground, he will play well through the air, and vice versa. He can retain possession and lay the ball off. When you don't have the ball, he works very hard which makes it easier for the midfield."

Although his chances for the national side have been limited with the likes of van Nistelrooy, new Liverpool recruit Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie ahead of him in the pecking order, he is certain to add an unsettling robustness to Celtic's forward line as a replacement for John Hartson. Porto were chasing him hard while a string of Premiership clubs, including Tottenham and Bolton, had registered their interest too.

By all accounts, the prospect of regular Champions League football swung the balance, as did Celtic's tradition even though he originally had his heart set on the Premiership. "Of course it's different from the Premiership but it's all to do with gut feeling and I have good feeling about going to Celtic. People say my style is suited to British football. The people there respect you if you fight until the 90th minute. That suits me down to the ground."

 
 
 

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