John Kennedy has warned that Robin van Persie remains the biggest danger to Celtic’s hopes of seizing the initiative in their Europa League group by beating Fenerbahce this week.
The Dutch striker has experienced a troubled start to life with the Turkish club, expressing his unhappiness at being left out of their starting line-up by manager Vitor Pereira in recent weeks.
There is an intelligence about van persie. He’s got a football brainJohn Kennedy
Celtic first team coach Kennedy was in Istanbul on Sunday night to watch van Persie score after coming off the bench as Fenerbahce lost 3-2 to city rivals Besiktas. He believes the 32-year-old former Arsenal and Manchester United player will pose a major threat to the Scottish champions in the potentially pivotal Group A showdown at Celtic Park on Thursday night.
“We don’t take any positives from talk of van Persie having problems with the coach,” said Kennedy. “Based on what I’ve seen, van Persie had a big impact on the game when he came on.
“I’d be very surprised if he didn’t start against us on Thursday. He is their best striker. He is 32 now and obviously at the other end of his career. But he is still a top, top player.
“His finish on Sunday night was excellent, he is very calm in front of goal. There is an intelligence there. He’s still got legs and he’s definitely got a football brain. That’s sometimes the most important thing in football.
“With the experience he has, he looks after his own game. He is still a threat. He is always there or thereabouts when chances come into the box.
“He is scoring goals and they have got that in different areas of the pitch. We know what his strengths are and we need to make sure we look after that.
“Listen, people are saying Fenerbahce are a club which is struggling, but they’re not. They lost on Sunday night and were disappointed to go out of the Champions League.
“But outwith that, they have been quite convincing from what I have seen. They have a lot of top players.
“They are in transition, with a new coach this season and around eight new players. But the players they have are very impressive – Robin van Persie, Nani and several other top class players.”
While Celtic began their Europa League campaign with an encouraging 2-2 draw against Ajax in Amsterdam, Fenerbahce were surprisingly beaten 3-1 at home by outsiders Molde. It has provided Celtic with an opportunity Kennedy is optimistic they can take.
“It would change the dynamic of the group if we could move four points clear of Fenerbahce at this stage, so that’s why we want to take advantage of that,” he added.
“Fenerbahce are a top side but if we bring our A game and play well, I’m pretty sure we can get all three points.
“The home games are always key in Europe where it is very tough away from home. Even the games at home now are getting tougher.
“But I always think home form is crucial. If you want to qualify, you need to take as many points on your own ground as possible.
“Anything you get away from home is a bonus. We started well with a point away to Ajax, so it would be nice to get another three points on the board this early in the campaign.
“With the calibre of team and players on show, it will have a Champions League feel to it. It’s two big clubs and I think it will be similar to Champions League standard.”