Two years on from winning the Champions League with Ajax, Louis van Gaal was appointed manager at the Camp Nou for the first time in 1997 and went back to his old club time and time again to replenish his squad. In came Michael Reiziger, Winston Bogarde, Patrick Kluivert, the de Boer twins, and Marc Overmars from Amsterdam. Bolo Zenden and Phillip Cocu were also recruited from PSV Eindhoven, while Ruud Hesp came from Roda. It was an era when every second voice in the Barcelona dressing room spoke with a Dutch accent. It was also around that time that a young Virgil van Dijk first discovered football. In the streets of his native Breda, van Dijk was emulating kids the world over by dreaming he was playing for Barcelona. As a future defender there were plenty of Dutch role models to base himself upon - Bogarde, Frank de Boer and Reiziger all mastered the art in different ways - but the 12 year-old van Dijk only had eyes for one player and it wasn't one of his compatriots. Nor was it a defender. Instead it was Ronaldinho - signed by Frank Rijkaard, another Dutch manager - who stood out as his favourite.
"I watched Barcelona a lot when I was younger and not just for the Dutch players," he said ahead of the Catalans' return to Celtic Park on Champions League duty this evening. "It is a beautiful club. To be honest, it was the Brazilian players I watched most. They brought so much joy and fun and I liked that as a young boy.
"I was a big fan of Ronaldinho. He was a fabulous football player and I liked to try and recreate his actions when I played on the street as a kid. The stepovers, these things. The joy he had was also important because it is important to enjoy the game. Of course, as a defender, you can't be doing those things out on the pitch, but when I was on the street, I always did it. I think that because of that practice, it has made me technically good."
It is a regret of van Dijk's that he never got to watch his hero in the flesh but he will have a decent view of the man many regard as Ronaldinho's successor tonight. With Lionel Messi missing due to injury, all eyes will now turn to Neymar, Barcelona's £50m summer recruit from Santos, to see if he can fill the void. Van Dijk knows he can't afford to be starstruck. "Maybe he [Neymar] is a little bit the same [as Ronaldinho], but I've never seen him playing live so it's tough to say," added the 22 year-old. "I can have respect for him, but I'll show it after the game. During the game, you have to be strong and believe in yourself. It's going to be a big night and a tough night. We know how Barcelona play and you know they love to play on possession, so we know what to expect."
Van Dijk was still a Groningen player last November when Celtic famously put Barcelona to the sword but the occasion did not pass him by. He remembers watching with a combination of astonishment and awe as Neil Lennon's side overcame the odds to land one of the greatest results in the club's history. Lennon's instruction to his players over the weekend to watch the game again on DVD has helped refresh van Dijk's memory of just what unfolded that night.
"When Celtic beat Barcelona last season, I was watching live on the couch," he added. "The first impression I had watching the game was from the fans, the atmosphere was fantastic. It was unbelievable even on the TV and having the fans behind you for every minute and every second from the beginning of the game is so important.
"It can help you a lot when you are not in the game and that was the biggest thing for me, as well as the result which was incredible. It was a shock for people, but Celtic deserved it. Barcelona had chances, but Celtic's defence was really good. I'd seen the game before but watching it again gave me goosebumps. Hopefully it's the same again."
What chance, then, of a repeat 11 months on? "We need to use set pieces and work hard defensively," he said. "If we get the chance to score, we need to take it. It's simple but in the Champions League you need to take your chances."
Having lost their opening group match away to AC Milan, there is an onus on Celtic to try to take something if they are to keep alive their prospects of reaching the last 16 for a second successive season. "I think we need at least a draw," admitted van Dijk. "You want to try to win every game, but especially the home games. We saw what was possible last year and hopefully we can do the same again."