Sunday 18 March 2018

Former Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink believes fans will be crucial to success over Milan

Mario Balotelli of AC Milan looks dejected during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Genoa CFC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Saturday
Mario Balotelli of AC Milan looks dejected during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Genoa CFC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Saturday

Gavin McCafferty

Former Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink believes the contrast in support experienced by Neil Lennon's players and their AC Milan counterparts could be a crucial factor in their Champions League clash on Tuesday.

Several hundred angry Milan fans blockaded the players in the San Siro on Saturday night after their 1-1 draw with Genoa, during which Mario Balotelli missed a penalty, before being pacified by Kaka and Christian Abbiati.

Hours earlier, the Celtic players were cheered off after their late win over Aberdeen and Vennegoor of Hesselink knows that such backing can inspire players on a European night.

The Dutchman, who played against Milan three times for Celtic but missed their 2-1 win in 2007 through injury, told Press Association Sport: "Celtic got a boost with the late win against Aberdeen and that's good for the confidence. Milan are struggling a bit in the league and had to calm down the supporters at the weekend.

"There is a little bit of crisis. When you have a crisis, there are things in the paper and it's not good for confidence.

"I saw some footage of it and it was quite intimidating. It's not good when you have to defend yourself against the supporters for not playing at your very best."

The retired 35-year-old's first appearance against Milan for Celtic came in the last 16 of the Champions League and he knows how important the fans were to lifting the team to such levels.

"That sparks something within a player, for sure," he said. "If I can speak about myself when I was playing, you just run a mile harder. It's not like you don't work hard in a normal league game but it's just that extra step.

"The crowd is always behind you, the whole game. I never had a big game when the supporters were not on their feet pushing you on, even when you were behind. It gives you something special to go 90 minutes and beyond.

"I think Celtic really have a chance to win the game."

The former Holland international believes the leadership of Lennon is another factor in Celtic's favour.

Vennegoor of Hesselink was at Celtic when Lennon wound up his playing days and then began his coaching career and was convinced he would go into management.

"He has done a really good job with the resources he has had," the former Hull striker said. "You see that the players want to fight for him, you can see that in a team.

"When I played with him he was a natural leader. He didn't need to change to be a leader.

"Sometimes you have captains because the manager has made him a captain. But sometimes you have leaders and it doesn't matter whether you have the armband on or not.

"He also helped me understand what it was like to play for the club. He helped me in a big way.

"Sometimes you play with players and you know they are going to be managers. I knew he was becoming a manager.

"He came back as a coach when we won the league in 2008 and he is a players' manager. He can speak to the guys in a normal way. It's not like the boys are afraid of him. You can go to him and the office is open. I think a lot of players will appreciate that."

:: Jan was speaking on behalf of Magners, main sponsor of Celtic, at the Wellpark Brewery, where Celtic and AC Milan fans can enjoy a free mini tour of the facilities between 14.30 and 18.30 before Tuesday's match.

Online Editors

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