THE last time Giovanni van Bronckhorst was a visitor to these shores, he was part of a fervent Celtic support that witnessed a 2-0 Ne'erday defeat of their arch rivals, Rangers, a result that severely dented the Ibrox club's hopes of achieving 10 in a row.
Loading article content
Now, six months later, he is no longer a face in the crowd. Rather, he is the latest addition to Dick Advocaat's cosmopolitan side and is eager to sample the applause of the other set of aficionados.
Yesterday, as the #5m midfielder was introduced by Advocaat, he recalled being a guest of former Feyenoord team-mate Henrik Larsson for one of football's most heated encounters. ''That was an experience,'' he recalled with a pained expression.
''Henrik only had two tickets and so I sat behind the goals next to the Celtic fans, who were all eating hamburgers and shouting.'' When asked by a predatory press pack what his reaction was to Craig Burley and Paul Lambert's goalscoring exploits, van Bronckhorst snatched the bait, saying: ''I stood up - but that was for Henrik, to see his team win.
''That was before I knew about signing for Rangers and now I hope the Rangers fans can shout for me.'' The great escape.
The 23-year-old Dutch internationalist is the latest signing in a spending spree that looks set to go into overdrive, with the kick-off to their UEFA Cup campaign now only one week away. Lionel Charbonnier, the third-choice goal-keeper with World Cup winners France, completed his move last night, as The Herald exclusively predicted last Wednesday - and Advocaat stated that another signing should be completed today.
The other is highly unlikely to be Scotland's World Cup captain, Colin Hendry. Yesterday, while on a visit north of the Border, the central defender said that, although Rangers were close to his heart and he knew the Ibrox club were interested in signing him, any move now seemed dead as he has a lucrative testimonial year with Blackburn Rovers to look forward to next season.
Rangers have paid a total of #5m for former Feyenoord player van Bronckhorst, with fellow- Dutchman Peter van Vossen's move in the opposite direction an integral part of the transfer. Advocaat, though, is convinced his new recruit will justify that outlay.
''I have known him for quite a long time, from when he was in Holland's youth team and he is a very good player - it was very difficult to get him because many other clubs were searching for him,'' said Advocaat. ''He was a player who was very high on my list. Feyenoord tried everything they could to keep him there and I can understand that. He is a very technical player and can score goals, in that way he is similar to Monaco's John Collins. He will be a big influence in the team, otherwise I wouldn't have bought him.''
If his other two deals are tied up today, that will take his signing tally to five, with Dutch full back Arthur Numan and Argentinian forward Gabriel Amato already secured. However, the coach has no intentions of stopping there.
''As I said before, we have lost 16 players and that cannot be filled in two weeks, so we need more time to get more players.''
Van Bronckhorst, who has 10 international caps so far, spoke of his delight at teaming up with Advocaat, a man he clearly respects, as well as international team-mate Arthur Numan. ''I know about the trainer and I think that made the difference,'' he said.
''It's good to have people I know around, like Arthur, who is a great player and a nice man. Also, I prefer a good social life and so I'd rather come here than Italy or Spain.''
Having spent his summer in France with the Dutch World Cup squad, van Bronckhorst admitted to feeling ''really tired''. However, his lack of first-team action in France means he will not be given the week-long leave of absence Numan will receive. So, unlike his new team-mate, van Bronckhorst will be playing in the UEFA Cup preliminary game against Shelbourne.
''Because I have been on the bench, I should be a little bit fitter, but the manager told me the situation before I joined and maybe I can have a rest later on.''
Unwittingly, van Bronckhorst gave the strongest hint yet of how
Continued on Page 30
Continued from back page
Advocaat will accommodate his big-name recruits by saying he is looking forward to playing in front of full back Numan.
A disciple of the 4-4-2 system, Advocaat looks set to have a midfield consisting of van Bronckhorst on the left, with the central midfield partnership of Jorg Albertz and Jonas Thern, which was so successful towards the end of last season. That leaves a berth on the right-hand side of midfield and youngster Barry Ferguson, who has made such an impression on his new coach during their pre-season tour of Norway that he was offered a five-year deal, could be a strong contender for the spot.
It seems, then, that the next addition will either be a striker, with Advocaat admitting that his last-ditch attempt to persuade Marco Negri to stay had failed, or a central defender to play alongside Numan and Italians Lorenzo Amoruso and Sergio Porrini. Derby County defender Igor Stimac, highly impressive in Croatia's charge to the World Cup semi-finals, is a candidate.