THE first-half penalty and free-kick that Pierre van Hooijdonk scored for Feyenoord in the 2002 UEFA Cup final helped his side to defeat Borussia Dortmund 3-2 and made him something of a cult hero to their supporters, the Het Legioen, at the same time.

The former Celtic striker, though, is holding out little hope of the Rotterdam club, who take on Rangers in their opening Europa League group game at Ibrox on Thursday night, achieving that sort of success in the coming months or any of their players attaining similar status.

Ajax may have enjoyed a remarkable and surprising resurgence in Europe last season by beating both Real Madrid and Juventus en route to the semi-final of the Champions League and only being knocked out when Spurs netted in the sixth minute of injury-time in the second leg of the last four double header.

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Yet, Van Hooijdonk stresses the Amsterdam giants are operating at an altogether different level in his native Netherlands to their Rotterdam rivals, who he represented on two separate spells towards the end of his eventful playing career.

The parallels between Feyenoord and Rangers are uncanny; both have glorious pasts, both have been beset by off-field turmoil in recent seasons, both are unable to challenge richer rivals for domestic honours, both are striving but struggling to satisfy the demands of their large and loyal fanbase, both are coached by iconic footballers who are in the embryonic stages of their managerial careers.

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The De Kuip outfit may have won three European honours in their 111 year history – the 1970 European Cup and 1974 UEFA Cup are there other triumphs – but those heady days are now distant memories.

“Feyenoord are a massive club, but they are finding it very hard at the moment to be as big on the field as they are off the field,” said Van Hooijdonk. “The main reason they can’t compete is finances. They can’t get close to the money that Ajax have spent on players. But the people still expect success. In Holland you have the championship and one cup to play for.

“Because of the expectations and the team not living up to the expectations there has been unrest at the club in the last two years. They have just sacked a sporting director and a director. It isn’t an ideal situation, isn’t a situation you expect at a club like Feyenoord.”

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Jaap Stam, the former Manchester United, Lazio and AC Milan centre half, took over at the troubled club at the start of June and has had, Europa League qualifying aside, a tough start to the 2019/20 campaign. His Feyenoord side have drawn three and won just one of their four Eredivisie matches so far and are languishing in 10th place. Van Hooijdonk, a former Netherlands team mate, sympathises with the new man in the dugout.

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“I played with Jaap in the national team,” said Van Hooijdonk. “Whenever a new manager comes in there is hope. But he has only really been manager at one club, Reading. He was only in charge at Zwolle briefly last season. He is like Steven Gerrard in many respects. They are both great players who have been given the opportunity to manage a great club.

“It is going to be a difficult task for Stam. It is easier for Gerrard – he is competing against Celtic and that is it. For Stam to get above Ajax and PSV will be a big achievement. There was a big points gap between them last season (Feyenoord finished 21 points off top spot). As I say, financially there is big difference.”

Stam succeeded Giovanni van Bronkhorst, who led Feyenoord to their first Dutch title in 18 years back in 2017, when the former Rangers defender cum midfielder stood down after four seasons in charge this summer. Van Hooijdonk stresses it is unrealistic to expect him to emulate his predecessor.

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“Giovanni had fantastic results,” he said. “He won the Dutch Cup a couple of times and they won the Eredivisie as well. That was unbelievable achievement. Giovanni did well. But he was manager during a different period. It was the right time for him to leave and for the club to look for something else. As a Feyenoord boy, he left with pride.

“I loved to be in the same Netherlands squad as Jaap. I was always substitute in the national team and he was always part of the first XI. During training I always had to play against him and that wasn’t a nice thing. But he is a good guy.

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“People think his character fits well with the club. The fans are mainly from working class stock. But when a manager takes over at a club there are always nice stories. At the end of the day he will be judged on results.”

But Van Hooijdonk - who helped Feyenoord edge out Rangers in the fourth round of the UEFA Cup in 2002 by scoring two free-kicks and setting up a third goal in a 3-2 second leg triumph that secured a narrow 4-3 aggregate triumph - is hopeful their form may be about to pick up and confident they can get a result in Glasgow due to the return to fitness of two key men.

Nicolai Jorgensen, their Danish striker, and Jens Toornstra, their Dutch midfielder, are set to make their comebacks for Stam’s side against Den Haag at home this afternoon. “They will be better against Rangers, that’s for sure,” he said. “Jorgensen will be back as will Toornstra, who was also out when the season got underway. They are training with the team again. Stam has a better first XI than he could put on the team sheet in the first game of the season. Things are better.”

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Rangers undoubted weak link both last season and this has been at left back. Borna Barisic, Jon Flanagan and Andy Halliday have all been played in the specialist position by Gerrard. But no member of that trio has ever been completely convincing for an extended spell. Van Hooijdonk feels Feyenoord can hurt them in that area. “For me, their best player is Steven Berghuis,” he said. “He is a left-footed right winger who is capable of both creating and scoring goals.”

Van Hooijdonk believes that, with little prospect of Eredivisie glory, going on a Europa League will be, unlike at Rangers, top priority for Feyenoord and their followers this season.

“One thing we know for sure this season is that they aren’t going to be champions,” he said. “So what do they have to play for? A cup and the Europa League. Everybody was very relieved to see them qualify and excited when they got drawn with Rangers, Young Boys and Porto. It is a nice group. European games are special for Feyenoord fans.”