The memory remains burned in Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata’s mind. It was four years ago when he found himself thrown in at the deep end against the might of Robin van Persie in his prime.
On loan at Bolton Wanderers at the time, Boyata entered the fray at the Emirates Stadium with his team already trailing 1-0 to a Van Persie goal and having just had first-choice central defender David Wheater sent off.
“It was tough, very tough,” recalls Boyata with a rueful grin. “It was tough to play against Van Persie, but to do it with ten against 11 made it even harder.”
Unable to stem the tide, Boyata could only admire the brilliance of Van Persie who scored again – it was his 100th goal for Arsenal – in a 3-0 victory.
Celtic and their supporters will discover tomorrow night whether the Dutch striker is now a significantly diminished force following his summer move from Manchester United to Fenerbahce.
The Turkish club have strenuously denied reports of a bust-up between their hierarchy and Van Persie who has been left out of the starting line-up for their last two games by coach Vitor Pereira.
Boyata, perhaps wisely, prefers to focus on the potential threat the 32-year-old – who has scored in both of those matches after coming off the bench – carries in the crucial Europa League Group A fixture at Celtic Park.
“We all know Van Persie,” said the former Manchester City player. “Wherever you go in football, if you say his name to people they know he is a real quality player. He can finish really easily and if we leave him a bit of space in front of goal, he will kill us.
“We have to be really tight on him. You only need to type his name into YouTube to see the amazing goals he has scored across his career. I’ve seen all his amazing goals for Arsenal, Manchester United and even before that.
“He’s just a really good and really dangerous player. Fenerbahce are a team full of quality players but he is the main guy we need to watch. As a defender and a football lover, I’ve seen him play and his movement is great and he can hold the ball up well. He’s technically good and he scores goals easily. He’s got a lot of positive qualities.
“Fenerbahce is full of quality players and I didn’t know he was not getting a start in the last few games. That just means the person who is playing in his place must be really good.”
Boyata also has previous experience of facing another of Fenerbahce’s big names, Portuguese winger Nani. They crossed swords during the all-Manchester English League Cup semi-final between City and United in 2010.
“He is a really good winger and a technically excellent player,” added Boyata. “He can score with a range of strikes from near and far out. They are all quality players at Fenerbahce, they have excellent defenders and Raul Meireles in the midfield too.
“But this is a good chance for us to make a statement at Celtic Park where it is always difficult for opponents. Before this group started, on paper you could say which team you think is strongest and I thought it was Fenerbahce.
“But you never know what happens out on the pitch. Fenerbahce lost their first game at home to Molde, so our draw away to Ajax gives us the chance to go four points ahead of them on Thursday night. That’s why there is a job for us to do in this game and we will be really satisfied if we can do it.”
Boyata is ready to lead what will need to be a solid defensive display by Celtic whose ever-changing back four has attracted considerable criticism this season.
“Yes, we had a period where we were conceding goals but the last few games have been fine,” said the 24-year-old.
“We have been working really hard every day in training because we want to keep clean sheets.
“For the moment it’s okay but we will take it step by step and keep trying to get better.”