CELTIC’S majority shareholder Dermot Desmond hailed Celtic’s breakthrough Champions League win in Moscow and predicted that the best years of manager Neil Lennon are yet to come.
Billionaire Irish businessman Desmond, in Scotland this week to compete in the pro-am Alfred Dunhill Links golf championship, spoke in glowing terms of Lennon as he digested Celtic’s thrilling 3-2 victory over Spartak Moscow on Tuesday night – the club’s first away victory in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition, achieved at the 19th attempt. “I’m thrilled that we’ve broken the record. It’s not a record we can be proud of – our lack of success away,” said Desmond in an interview with BBC. “We were confident in the team and Neil’s ability. The best years of Neil Lennon have yet to come.”
Lennon had already secured victories on the road against HJK Helsinki and Helsingborgs en route to the financially-rewarding group stages of this season’s Champions League, and the win in Moscow was another significant step forward for the club.
Lennon has earned plaudits for his tactical nous and approach this season, particularly in Europe. After an unsettled start to Lennon’s managerial reign, when he was pitched as a first-time manager to succeed Gordon Strachan, Desmond is delighted that the attributes he and the board saw in the Northern Irishman are now manifest.
“Neil was a person we knew well. He was team captain, working with Gordon Strachan and Tony Mowbray, so we were familiar with his abilities,” said Desmond, “So it must be remembered that Neil served his appenticeship as a manager and we’ve got to give everybody time and he’s performing really well.
“His intelligence is underestimated. He analyses everything very well, he’s very well read, he’s continually seeking to improve his knowledge, he’s building a strong team, he’s not afraid to make decisions about the quality of the team he wants, he’s a lateral thinker and, like the team, he’s a work in progress.”
Celtic’s journey in the Champions League is also a work in progress, the victory in Moscow following a goalless draw against Benfica at Parkhead, and Desmond refused to get carried away despite the bright start – especially with Barcelona up next, away then home.
“Let’s not run away with ourselves,” he said. “We’ve only played two matches, we’re playing Barcelona in the next two; probably, if not the best, team in the world. They are good results, but we are continuing to work hard to improve.”
In a separate interview with STV, Desmond added: “It’s great for Scottish football, great for Celtic supporters and hopefully they can kick on and improve from here. We will do our best [to reach the knockout stages]and everybody will give 100 per cent. We can’t really determine the outcome at this time, but it’s a great turning point for the club – I think it’s a tipping point for Neil and his team and hopefully they’ll go from strength to strength here.”
Celtic face Hearts on Sunday, having reached the top of the SPL for the first time this season at the weekend by beating Motherwell 2-0, and will learn today who they face in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup at Hampden. The club’s week of success continued last night when their under-19 side beat PSV Eindhoven 3-1 in the NextGen series.