Europa League holds no fears for Celtic’s Dorus de Vries

Celtic keeper Dorus de Vries' last European outing was a 7-0 loss to Barcelona. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS
Celtic keeper Dorus de Vries' last European outing was a 7-0 loss to Barcelona. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS
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Dorus de Vries admits that the prospect of regular European football was what convinced him to leave Nottingham Forest and rejoin Brendan Rodgers at Celtic Park at the start of last season. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, his experience in Continental competition since then does not extend further than the 7-0 thrashing by Barcelona in the Camp Nou in the opening Champions League game five weeks later.

A chest injury sustained against Kilmarnock two games later opened the door for Craig Gordon to regain his place in the starting line-up, leaving the 37-year-old as a frustrated spectator at home and abroad until the Scotland goalkeeper damaged medial knee ligaments in a collision with former team-mate Efe Ambrose in the 1-0 home win over Hibernian last month.

On Thursday de Vries will finally discover how it feels to play at Parkhead on a big European night when Zenit St Petersburg come to Glasgow to vie for a place in the last 16 of the Europa League. Experiencing that atmosphere was a major factor in attracting the former Dunfermline shotstopper back to Scotland.

“It was and that is the biggest difference between playing here and playing in the Championship and with the lower teams in the Premier League; European football and some big games are here,” he said.

“Having said that, every game we play here is big because in every single game people are expecting you to win it. There is no point in looking two weeks ahead, three weeks ahead.”

Making his European debut against Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar (who, between them, scored six of the Catalans’ seven goals) might have scarred a younger man but de Vries simply shrugged it off as a bad day at the office.

“Of course, you are always looking to rectify certain stuff and be better in the next game,” he said.

“The next game is all that matters at the moment. That’s all I am focusing on; I want to be ready.

“Barcelona are an exceptional team and they were exceptional on that night. Everything went for them and it seemed like shooting practice at times. But that’s part of being a team, it’s part of being a goalie.

“You learn from it and you make sure that you keep on going mentally and prepare yourself for the next test. I didn’t need to lift myself after that result because the next game is the most important one. You learn from every opponent in every game, whether you win, lose or draw. You always try to take the positives, look at the negatives, and see what you can learn.

“That counts for Barcelona or Partick Thistle; it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change. You want to perform and you want to win, if you don’t win, then don’t lose and, if you do lose, you see what you need to learn.”

Facing Roberto Mancini’s side will take de Vries’ tally of first-team appearances to just 11 in 18 months but he has no regrets over his move to 
Glasgow.

“The whole experience since I have arrived here, European nights included, has been special but I have to say every game here is special and I mean that,” he claimed. “Our home support is magnificent.

“However, at the biggest games, the atmosphere is incredible. I’ve had family and friends come over and they’ve said the same thing.”

Celtic have won just one of their dozen Champions League group ties under Rodgers but de Vries argues that the Hoops should be much more competitive in the Europa League.

‘If you look across Europe you can see that the really big financial powerhouses are running football now,” he said “There is a dominance by these clubs, who have huge financial backing. What can you do against that sort of money?

“I’m really delighted that we’ve been in the Champions’ League group stages since I’ve been at Celtic, though, because it’s been a great financial injection for the club.”