ROBIN van Persie arrived at Celtic Park with a point to prove or, failing that, no doubt a lip to pet. There had been much flim-flam about his absence from the Fenerbahce line-up for their past two games and his patently problematic relationship with the Istanbul club’s coach Vitor Pereira. Yet given the expected opportunity to show that, at 32, he could still sparkle on a stage befitting his status in Glasgow last night, there proved to be all too much shim-sham in the display of the Dutchman.
Van Persie was horrified to find himself dropped from the Fenerbahce line-up only a matter months on from his £3.5 million summer move from Manchester United. Principally because, “sources close the player” intimated, his desire to be a figure of central importance to his team was the very reason he ended his three-year stint at Old Trafford. This parting of the ways had nothing to do with the reputed million-pound-plus monthly earnings he is trousering in Turkey, you understand.
In the build-up to last night’s pulsating Europa League encounter, another often quarrelsome, and tell-it-like-it-is Dutchman Pierre van Hooijdonk laid on the line that the reason Van Persie had failed to nail down a place with a Fenerbahce side he had once called his football home was because the most potent performer brought to the club during the close season wasn’t a man whose eight years at Arsenal were the stuff of legend but a Brazilian forward, Fernandao.
The assessment of Van Hooijdonk proved highly prescient. Van Persie was not evidenced in forward areas at any point during the opening 40 minutes as his side fell two goals behind. His only interventions of note were catching Kris Commons with an arm when defending at the left-back area and whipping the legs from Scott Brown in a foul that ought to have earned him a caution.
Then Fernandao was introduced, only for the 28-year-old immediately to pull a goal back three minutes later when he anticipated – as many in the stadium did – that Efe Ambrose might be short with a back-header to keeper Craig Gordon.
The vitality, drive and determination that Van Persie singularly failed to exhibit was once more apparent from Fernandao when he sent a towering header into the roof of the Celtic net from a corner only three minutes into the restart.
Pereira surely kicked himself for being sufficiently seduced by the goals plundered by Van Persie in each of his league cameos in recent weeks – and sufficiently tired of the froth created by omitting his extraordinarily moneyed marksman – into giving him a berth in his XI at Celtic Park. It proved a waste of a starting place. Many have maintained that Van Persie, stripped of the Netherlands captaincy last month, is a much diminished figure. Last night they were provided with further ammunition.