Former Celtic striker Pierre van Hooijdonk has stated that we wasn’t impressed with the quality at the club when he arrived.
The big Dutchman became a cult-hero in the East End after firing home 56 goals in 92 matches for the club. That came in a three-year spell between 1994 and 1997.
Upon his arrival, Celtic hadn’t won a trophy in six years. He effectively ended that drought with the winner against Airdrie in the Scottish Cup final of ’95. In the ’96 season, he would end the season as the club’s top goalscorer before falling out with Fergus McCann in the ’97 campaign.
And in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, van Hooijdonk explained why he left as well as how the quality at Parkhead changed over time.
“Our best players were on five‑figure sums per week and I was not. McCann said if I did well he would raise my salary. I became top scorer but he never offered me the same money as the others. I’m a man of my word.
“When I arrived at Celtic in 1994 I was not impressed with the quality. But when Andreas Thom joined, then Jorge and Paolo, the difference in level was unbelievable. It was a great partnership.
“John Collins had taken me to his home for dinner when I had joined, so when the other foreigners arrived I did the same.”
A case of what if regarding van Hooijdonk
Granted, the year after van Hooijdonk left, Celtic managed to stop the 10. It was one of the most incredible and emotional years in the club’s history. Not many would change anything from that year.
But there’s no denying it would’ve been great to have had van Hooijdonk at the club for longer. The Dutchman’s goal record remains a hugely impressive one. There’s a reason he’s still remembered extremely fondly at the club despite winning just one trophy in his three years here.
It’s also worth remembering that Celtic would still go on to win nothing in the 1998-99 campaign and the 1999-00 season respectively. Having van Hooijdoink at the club could’ve been a big boost towards winning more silverware.
But in any case, the Dutchman moved on to Nottingham Forest before having spells with Vitesse Arnhem, Benfica, Fenerbahce, NAC Breda, and two with Feyenoord. He ended up being a bit of a journeyman despite the massive talent he had.
He did manage to win two Turkish titles with Fenerbahce. He also bagged the UEFA Cup with an impressive success with Feyenoord back in 2002 (finishing top scorer in the UEFA Cup too). But those Turkish titles were the only top-flight honours he bagged.
Granted, he did manage to get Nottingham Forest promoted the year after he left Parkhead. He also managed fourth place with the Netherlands at the ’98 World Cup. But he undoubtedly had more to give Celtic had his contract situation been solved. He remains, to this day, one that got away to an extent.