Derk Boerrigter the key man in Celtic’s Ajax plan

Derk Boerrigter and Anthony Stokes promote Celtic's new partnership with Phoenix Honda. Picture: SNS
Derk Boerrigter and Anthony Stokes promote Celtic's new partnership with Phoenix Honda. Picture: SNS
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Derk Boerrigter believes he can help Celtic manager Neil Lennon plot the European downfall of an Ajax side he says have been significantly diminished by their transfer window activity.

The Dutch winger joined Celtic from the Amsterdam club last month and is set for a rapid reunion with his former employers in a stellar Champions League group which also includes Barcelona and AC Milan.

Boerrigter viewed the last few days of transfer activity with interest as Ajax sold Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen to Tottenham for £11 million, then Belgian full-back Toby Alderweireld joined Atletico Madrid for more than £6 million.

With Barcelona and Milan heavily favoured to fill the top two spots in Group H and reach the last 16 of the Champions League, there is a widespread perception Ajax and Celtic will be scrapping it out for third place and the consolation prize of a place in the last 32 of the Europa League.

It is a view Boerrigter accepts is grounded in reality and he is ready to furnish his new manager Lennon with as much information as possible about his former club.

“I can help the manager prepare for the Ajax games,” said Boerrigter. “I played there for two years and I know everything about the team and the players. I know how they play, who takes the free kicks, everything. I will speak to the manager and give him the information he needs. We want to win the games, so I will tell him everything.

“Ajax have just lost a couple of important players. Christian Eriksen is an excellent player, very skilful. He’s a top midfielder who can score goals and provide assists. So they’ve lost quality in midfield.

“They also sold Toby Alderweireld, who is a good defender, so that’s quality gone from the back-line and I think a young player will take over from him.

“They are definitely weaker now than they were at the start of the transfer window, of course. They’ve lost three good players including myself. So they’re weaker.

“They’ve bought Lerin Duarte from Heracles, who is the same type as Eriksen but we’ll see how he does because Ajax are a bigger club than Heracles. Bojan Krkic is on loan, who is also a very good player and used to play for Barcelona. And they’ve got the defender Mike Van Der Hoorn from Utrecht. He’s a big guy but it remains to be seen how they will do there.

“Am I surprised they let myself and the others go? Maybe they wanted the money to invest in new players, I don’t know. Eriksen only had one year left on his contract.

“At Ajax, they have a policy that if you have one year left, they either offer you a new deal or sell you. But they’ve obviously gone for the second option.

“Barcelona and AC Milan probably feel they will go through in our group, with Celtic and Ajax fighting for third. I don’t think that’s unfair, I understand it.

“They have a great record in the Champions League over the years – but we are Celtic, we’re a big club, and we’ll try to get as many points as we can to see how far we can go. I think we can go far. To survive in Europe beyond the group stage must be the target. We would prefer the Champions League, but the Europa League would also be okay.”

Boerrigter says Ajax will regard themselves as firm favourites against Celtic, in part based on a pre-season friendly between the clubs in July 2012 which the Dutch champions won 4-0 at the Amsterdam ArenA. “Ajax won easily that day and maybe, with that game in mind, they’ll think facing Celtic will be easy,” he added. “They’ll think they need to beat us but we won’t let them.”

Having been deemed surplus to requirements by Ajax head coach Frank de Boer during the summer, Boerrigter may have extra motivation to put one over the former Rangers defender. But he insists there is no bad blood between them.

“I don’t feel I have anything to prove to De Boer,” he said. “I’ll just try to play my own game and be important for Celtic. I don’t want to annoy anybody whatsoever.

“In the beginning I had a very good relationship with him. I played every game. He couldn’t wait for me to get fit again after I got my back injury. But when I was fit again, I got another injury in my back. I broke a bone and it kept me out for a long time again. When I finally got back, I wasn’t that fit anymore. The speed I got wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t perform very well and it was a hard time for me.

“Of course, he needs to win games and if he has a player who doesn’t perform very well, he has to leave him out. It’s as easy as that. I don’t blame him. Sometimes, when I was fit again and thought I deserved to play, he didn’t put me in. Maybe then there were times when I thought ‘Come on, let me play’. But there are no hard feelings.”

Boerrigter is slowly adapting to life in Scotland, where he admits the style of football has been something of a culture shock. But he also feels his experience at Ajax makes him well suited to the demands placed on Celtic to succeed in every competition they take part in.

“It’s tough, hard football here,” he said. “That’s maybe the biggest difference for me. Here everyone plays with so much passion – they’ll kill you if they have to. But it’s good. It makes you stronger.

“The pressure at Ajax is always really high. It’s always been like that and always will. But I think it’s good, you learn from it. It makes your mentality stronger.

“I never felt the pressure was too much. At Ajax, you always have to perform. They set goals before the start of the season, like you have to become champions, you have to win every game, you have to survive in the Champions League, you have to win the cup. Winning is the most important thing.

“Besides that, they want to play good football. If you win 2-0 but you play a bad game, then the newspapers and fans are still very negative.”