DERK Boerrigter isn’t backward at coming forward. Or maybe that should be bounding forward.
For the likeable 26-year-old was in no mood to disabuse anyone of the notion that Celtic had signed up a flying machine with the £2 million deal that prompted the Dutchman to swap Ajax for the Scottish champions this week. “In Holland I was the fastest one,” the winger said. “For 30 metres I had a time of 3.74. We would all do sprints and in the end I was the fastest.” And when it was put to Boerrigter that he might then be considered Holland’s very own Usain Bolt, he retorted with a grin: “I am the white Usain Bolt.”
Boerrigter is certainly the finished article – the very sort that his manager Neil Lennon said the club were in the market for this summer, even when their stated transfer policy of recent times has been to buy young players for modest sums, develop them and sell them on. Indeed, only captain Scott Brown and Georgios Samaras have made more appearances in the Champions League group stages than the club’s latest arrival.
Two years ago Boerrigter won a move to the Amsterdam Arena after helping RKC Waalwijk – the initials standing for Roman Catholic Combination – win promotion to the top flight. The former Ajax youth player was immediately pitched into a Champions League group campaign wherein he netted for his new club away to Dinamo Zagreb and showed up well enough to earn a call-up to the Dutch national squad.
That call-up in November 2011 was aborted because of a double stress fracture that sidelined him for two months and caused him to miss his club’s final two group games that season. It has been suggested that the enforced break and subsequent struggles to regain his zip diluted his manager Frank de Boer’s confidence in him, and was the reason he latterly had to rely on appearing from the bench. However, this confidence remained sufficiently strong for Boerrigter to make four starts and one substitute outing in the so-called “group of death” that pitted Ajax against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City last season. He netted a consolation in a heavy defeat in the Bernabeu, but recalls most fondly the 2-2 draw in Manchester that helped Ajax pip the obscenely-wealthy City for third place in the group.
Yet, more than Boerrigter’s Champions League experience makes him a potentially important player for Celtic in the return leg of their third qualifying round tie away to Elfsborg on Wednesday. The Swedish title holders, who will be looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the Glasgow leg, play on an artificial surface in the Boras Arena. A similar pitch, indeed, to the one laid at Zwolle’s IJsseldelta Stadium, where the winger played for the two years before his move to RKC.
“[Because of the two years there] it is no problem to me,” he said. “A couple of teams in the Eredivisie also have it so. It is totally different to a normal football field, but you get used to it. You can get stiff. Some people complain about their backs, knees or ankles. If you only play one game it should not be a problem.”
Boerrigter watched the first leg from the stands and witnessed Celtic play a Dutch-style 4-3-3 wherein Samaras was deployed in the wide left position that the new arrival will look to make his own. That creates a potential problem, since the Greek has become one of the most influential figures in the team and a favoured son of the support. Boerrigter vaguely remembers Samaras from his days with Heerenveen and has a solution to the awkward aspect of both men appearing best suited to the same position. “He can move up,” Boerrigter said of a player whose status he appreciated from the way the fans were with him and the fact “his picture is up in the Celtic store”.
“I think I can combine well with him. He is a great player and I can’t wait to play alongside him. If he plays striker then I can supply the crosses and he can head them in.
“I can also play on the right. I played a couple of times there for Ajax and did well there so that would be no problem. Sometimes against Elfsborg I could see four strikers [with Kris Commons as a second striker] and I liked that. Attacking is my style.”
The attacking of a physically-uncompromising nature that meant the Swedes often played men, and in particular Samaras, rather than the ball in midweek. It is not a style that would cause Boerrigter to blanche, even were he required to be in direct opposition to main culprit and Elfsborg right-back Johan Larsson in three days’ time.
“I don’t care,” said Boerrigter. “If he wants to tackle, then tackle. If he gets a yellow card then he can’t tackle any more. He gave Samaras a couple of kicks. If you slide [on that surface] your skin gets burnt. You think twice if you want to do that. Or you wear long shorts and do it anyway.”
Players from northern Europe, in the form of Holland and Scandinavia, have made a more favourable impression in Scottish football than those hailing from anywhere else in the world. Boerrigter won’t need an assimilation period. He has won a league title in each of his past two seasons. At Ajax, he played in a club which outstrips all league rivals in terms of size, European success and drawing power. And one that also moves on imports for much higher fees than they were acquired for. The £17.5m that Celtic coined in for the sales of Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper pales against the £20m Ajax received for Luis Suarez ... albeit, they paid £6.5m for Groningen for him in the first place.
In essence, though, Celtic should have a familiar feel for Boerrigter. “Yeah, that is true. Ajax bring on a lot of players, and, if they do well then they go to another club for a lot of money.” Or in the winger’s case, move out of a need to play and be appreciated.