PIERRE van Hooijdonk was once described as a 'rare gem in a field of rock' after his impressive Celtic debut.

It wasn't hard to see why. Although, by the Dutchman's own admission, comparisons to the Brazilian superstar Ronaldo was possibly a flight of fancy.

A Tommy Burns signing from Eredivisie outfit NAC Breda for a £1.25million fee back in January 1995, it took the big striker just 12 minutes to win over the hearts and minds of the faithful.

A stunning individual goal was not enough to win the match, though, as Celtic slumped to a 1-1 draw at Hampden Park against Hearts. It was their 13th stalemate of the season - but a new strike hero was born that night.

Van Hooijdonk picked up Mike Galloway's lob out of defence, flicked the ball over Neil Berry and held off another defender before exploding a thunderbolt high into Craig Nelson's net. It was a goal Ronaldo himself would have been proud of.

Despite becoming a trademark free-kick specialist during his two-year stint at Celtic, the former Netherlands international reckons his counter against Hearts rates as his best strike.

Van Hooijdonk said: "That goal against Hearts on my debut at Hampden Park was probably my best.

"Let's put it this way free-kicks are spectacular but once you've scored one all you can do is replicate the feat. 

"Free-kicks into the top corner are nice but it is repetition. I cannot remember scoring another goal like the one I did against Hearts in my first match for Celtic.

"I think the Celtic supporters all thought they had just signed the Dutch version of Ronaldo. He used to score world-class goals like that all the time. That kind of goal most definitely wasn't my style. The Celtic supporters loved it though. It was a wonderful way to kick-start my Celtic career."

Celtic Way:

It was to get better for Van Hooijdonk as, within five months, he had ended Celtic's agonising six-year trophy drought.

From 1989 to 1995 Celtic didn’t just fail to win anything, they weren't even runners-up in the league.

The joy and relief that greeted the Dutchman heading the winner home following a Tosh McKinlay cross were palpable as Celtic recorded a scrappy 1-0 Scottish Cup final victory against Airdrie at Hampden.

It repaid a huge slice of Van Hooijdonk's transfer fee but, in that instant, Van Hooijdonk had also repaid the faith that Burns had shown in him by bringing him to Glasgow's east end.

Van Hooijdonk revealed it was that moment that he understood fully why Burns had made him watch videotapes and read books to brush up on the history of the club.

Van Hooijdonk said: "Tommy Burns was the best man ever. He was an unbelievable person and the way he made me feel when I signed for Celtic was amazing.

"Tommy was just so welcoming and he made me learn the history of Celtic and find out what the club was all about. I moved several times to other clubs in my career but I never had the experience or feeling that I had with any of the other clubs that I had with Celtic.

"Tommy brought VHS tapes and books round to my hotel to let me get a feel for the club. The videos helped me out no end. No other manager at any other club I have played for treated me like that. He was such a special person.

"That Scottish Cup final was magical and a great experience for the both of us. This trophy win meant so much more to everybody because it was the first time Celtic had won silverware in six years.

"I was only at the club for five months and the manager, players and supporters had all suffered during that time. It was the trophy that ended a terrible spell.

"It was not like that for me because I was like 'fuck yeah, I have just won a trophy in my first few months at Celtic and I have scored the winner as well'

"I looked at Paul McStay and Peter Grant and I could see that these guys were very emotional. Right there and then at that moment, I understood what it meant to play for Celtic and to represent the cause and the club.

"Supporters were coming up to me crying, people who had gone through those six years. The feeling was incredible that day and from then on Celtic became a proper team."

The following season has gone down in Celtic folklore yet the club still won nothing. That 1995-96 campaign is remembered mostly for Celtic losing just one game the entire season but still conceding the league flag to Rangers by four points.

READ MORE: Celtic's new Three Amigos show Ange Postecoglou's side are cut from the same cloth as the Tommy Burns team of the 90s

But the next season, Burns unleashed 'the Three Amigos' on Scottish football. A three-pronged attack consisting of Paolo Di Canio, Jorge Cadete and Van Hooijdonk.

Van Hooijdonk netted an astonishing 32 goals in that campaign while Cadete chipped in with five in six games after signing late in the season. The next campaign Cadete went one better with 33 goals in all competitions with Di Canio netting 15 and Van Hooijdonk 16.

However, the Dutchman insists that there was a fourth wheel and a vital cog in the green and white machine whose contribution is overlooked.

While the Three Amigos ran riot and terrorised defences up and down the country, it was East German forward-turned-midfielder Andreas Thom who Van Hooijdonk credits as being the brains behind the operation.

Although the Dutchman insists that it was Di Canio who had the character to convince the others in the side that Rangers were possibly there for the taking.

Celtic Way:

READ MORE: Tosh McKinlay on Celtic under Tommy Burns, The Three Amigos and stopping the 10 - The Big Interview

He said: "Everybody always talks about Tommy Burns side and the Three Amigos. The Celtic supporters sometimes forget Andy Thom. He was a quality player and just a really good footballer.

"He brought creativity but he also brought brains. He was the brains behind the operation and he made Celtic tick and not in an ordinary way. That was something that Celtic needed.

"Jorge was an out and out goalscorer like myself. We had different qualities myself and Jorge but we both just loved scoring goals.

"He wanted the ball in behind defenders whereas I would always come and show for the ball and link up with the midfield.

"Paolo was an artist who could do crazy and silly things. That was just in Paolo's character.

"The most important thing that Paolo added to Celtic was his presence. That may sound strange but in that Celtic team we had a lot of nice guys in the squad where Rangers had Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne in their ranks.

"Celtic needed Paolo's arrogance in our team. There was always something going around him and the opposition tried to kick him but he was never scared.

"He had that arrogance on and off the pitch and he set an example and a standard for others to follow. He was ferocious in the gym... and in front of the mirrors too.

"Whenever Paolo passed a mirror at Celtic Park, he would preen himself for 30 seconds but he could back it all up on and off the park. He was vital for that team.

"Celtic played some fantastic stuff that season. The team created a barrowload of chances for myself, Jorge and Paolo.

"Tosh McKinlay, Jackie McNamara and Simon Donnelly were the providers and creators of goals for the attackers. We had a very good combination.

"We felt that we were close and the supporters always say had the Three Amigos and Andy Thom stayed together for another season at Celtic then we may have won the title.

"It didn't happen so we will never know the answer to that."

Celtic Way:

Van Hooijdonk admitted that he relished the white-hot heat of the Glasgow derbies but sadly for him and Celtic he very rarely got the better of the Light Blues.

One match, in particular, has gone down in derby history. A pulsating 3-3 draw at Ibrox between the sides in November 1995 saw Van Hooijdonk being denied by a wonder save by Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram.

The striker crashed in a close-range volley that looked net bound all the way but was somehow miraculously beaten away by the former Scotland number rone.

Van Hooijdonk reckons it was a bad miss rather than a good save, arguing: "Everybody always talks about Goram's save from my volley in the 3-3 draw at Ibrox. Strikers always process things by saying it was a good save rather than a bad miss especially if they set the highest standards for themselves as I did.

"Goram was easily underestimated as a goalkeeper because he just didn't look like an athlete at all. He was a great player and a fantastic goalkeeper.

"But of all the goals I scored not many went through the middle. That volley went straight down the middle and it was not on purpose. I caught it so sweet and if it had gone to the left or the right it would have gone in.

"I just thought any kind of touch on the ball would be enough contact to score. I was that close to the net, I thought there is no chance the goalkeeper has time to react here.

"Goram did not have time to react - I just hit him with the ball. It all happened so fast and you can see my reaction after it as I put my hand in front of my face. I realised: 'Fuck me, that is a big miss!' To this day, I still think it should have been a goal."

READ MORE: Jock Brown on plugging Celtic dressing room leaks, saving a fortune on Larsson, Jansen mistakes and debates with McCann - The Big Interview

No discussion on Van Hooijdonk's two years at Celtic can ignore the fact that the attacker left the club under a cloud. 

He seemed to be constantly bickering with Celtic chairman Fergus McCann over wages. Van Hooijdoink felt that he had delivered on the park and 56 goals in 92 games would appear to back up his theory.

Ill-advised and poorly judged comments as he was trying to explain his stance during a wages war with McCann succeeded only in signalling the beginning of the end of his Celtic career.

One sentence, in particular, came back to bite him: "£7,000 may be good for a homeless person but £7,000 a week is not good enough for a top-class forward."

When a popular local radio station ran with that headline the Dutchman knew immediately that he was in trouble and boarding a runaway train that could not be stopped.

He insists all along that he meant that his wages should have been commensurate with higher earners at the club like Di Canio and Thom.

Van Hooijdonk was offered a 100 per cent wage rise from £3,500 to £7,000 a week but the top earners at the club were reputedly being paid between £10,000 and £11,000.

While he regrets the way it was all played out in the media and the way he was portrayed, he still feels that many misunderstood the actual point he was trying to make in the first place.

Van Hooijdonk said: "I wanted to try and explain in a very honest way what was going on at Celtic with regards to myself. I would have still said the same thing but it was more how it was portrayed and how it all came out.

"It was a runaway train after that and it was not going to stop for a while. I scored 56 goals in 92 games for Celtic and I wanted to be one of the top earners. Fergus McCann offered to double my wage from £3,500 to £7,000 but it still did not make me one of the higher earners at the club.

"It was still far off the higher earners and I felt that I had to be amongst them looking at my stats. I did not think it was wrong to feel like that. If you do something for the club then you should get rewarded.

"I wrote a newspaper column and what I said was: 'The offer Celtic have made is a lot of money for ordinary people, but for a top Celtic player it isn’t, because people like Di Canio and Thom are paid more'. I wasn't placed in the right wages bracket, in my opinion.

"I wanted to explain to people that it was still a lot of money for a football player and an ordinary person because there are people out there who earn hardly anything at all. I wanted to explain that I was not a big-headed so-and-so who throws thousands of pounds in the air.

"Unfortunately it all came out wrong and my words were received very badly. A radio station picked up on it and all of sudden the homeless argument was brought into it. Maybe it was my English at the time but the guy who wrote it down in this way mentioned the homeless.

"I had to defend myself all the time for something that was meant to be a decent and gentle comment. But it's in the past now. It is not something that I or the Celtic supporters choose to dwell on.

"The Celtic fans always remember the good times and I am really happy about that."

Celtic Way:

Van Hooijdonk left Celtic for Nottingham Forest in 1997 in pursuit of his dream of representing Holland at the 1998 World Cup finals in France - which he duly did, even scoring in a 5-0 win over South Korea during the group stages.

Even though Forest were second tier-bound after enduring a hellish season, Dutch boss Guus Hiddink had told Van Hooijdonk he would remain in his plans as long as he was playing regular football regardless of the level.

That all but helped seal the deal in Van Hooijdonk's mind as he swapped Paradise for the City Ground for a fee of £4.5million.

Van Hooijdonk said: "I jumped on the first bandwagon that passed by because I was back in the Holland national team and I scored two goals against Wales in the qualifiers and I grabbed another two in qualifiers against San Marino.

"The World Cup finals were being held in France and I was desperate to play. I spoke to the coach Guus Hiddink because I had been left out by Celtic manager Tommy Burns for some games.

"We had World Cup qualifying games coming up and I told him about my situation. I explained the possible options open to me and one of them was to move away from Celtic to Nottingham Forest.

"Guus told me in no uncertain terms: 'Pierre, if you don't play I cannot pick you, if you do play then you will be in France'.

"Relegation from the top flight was a certainty for Nottingham Forest and I had asked Guus about playing in the second tier in England.

"He said that playing at second-tier level would be no problem at all and that he would continue to pick me for Holland. I was just desperate to play at the World Cup finals.

"That was crucial to my thinking and my decision to leave Celtic for Nottingham Forest."

Time is indeed a great healer especially when it comes to Van Hooijdonk. His part in the Burns era and the Three Amigos side is still remembered with warmth and affection by those of a green and white persuasion.

Van Hooijdonk added: "What you want as a player is to leave something behind at every club you represent. A kind of lasting legacy.

"So when you leave a club or when you retire you can look back and say what did I do in my career? Celtic as a club and the supporters are always grateful for what I did on the pitch for them.

"It has never been a problem as the Celtic supporters are always affectionate towards me and the part that I played in that Tommy Burns team. It was a wonderful two years at Celtic and it was the start of a new era for the club.

"Playing for Celtic was a great experience for me. I came from a small club in Holland and it was great to see if I could score goals abroad.

"Supporters felt that energy between the manager, the players and themselves when I played for Celtic. Some players don't have that and some do. I think I belong to the last group.

"Playing for Celtic was one of the best experiences in my career but it was not the happiest as we should have won the title.

"I feel that I contributed to bringing Celtic as a club back to the levels that it now enjoys today. I am happy with that. It was my dream to play for Holland in the World Cup finals in 1998.

"Had I not been included in the Dutch squad back in 1997 there would have been no reason for me not to extend my stay in Glasgow and stay at Celtic for a longer period."

Back in 1997, Celtic did possess a rare gem of a player in Van Hooijdonk. Sadly for Celtic, with the World Cup finals looming, big Pierre was clearly ​stuck between a 'rock and a heart place'.