Neil Lennon says the worst bit is over for Celtic

Despite being pitted against the brilliance of Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League group stage, there will be a prevailing sense of relief in the corridors of Celtic Park, according to former player and manager Neil Lennon.

Neil Lennon says Champions League play-off games are very stressful. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Neil Lennon says Champions League play-off games are very stressful. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

“The pressure is off now,” said the man now in charge of Hibernian. “The pressure was getting there. It’s great for Brendan [Rodgers], the players, the supporters. They can enjoy it all, there is no pressure on them other than the pressure they put on themselves to compete in it.

“The journey to get there is the worst part. There is so much riding on qualification,” said Lennon referring not only to the prestige and the added incentive it gives to players to opt for a move to Glasgow, but the £20 million-plus pay-out the glamour fixtures guarantee them.

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“Now that Celtic are there and they are guaranteed a huge amount of money they can breathe again. You say to yourself that you can enjoy this now. Celtic will be the fourth seed and the underdog in their group and if they outperform other teams it is a huge bonus.”

Having competed in the group stages as a player, Lennon was also the last manager to guide the team to that phase of the illustrious tournament and he admitted that the route there was as stressful as it got at a club that deals with high demands and expectation on a weekly basis.

“The nerves surrounding Champions League play-off round is worse than any Old Firm game because of the amounts of money that are at stake. It sets up your whole season. You can recover from an Old Firm loss as you know you have another three to play but, in terms of Champions League qualification, you can’t.

“It also sets out whatever transfer fund you may or may not have. It is great for Celtic and their players’ development and the manager and his personal development and for the supporters it is just an exciting time.

“It also gives the Scottish game a boost and all the clubs get a cut of the money. Celtic will also be in the position to spend and possibly attract a high calibre of player to the club.

“The carrot is the fact that Celtic are now a Champions League team. It is chance for players to come and win trophies as well as being a platform for them to go on do other things.

“Celtic is a big name, traditionally a huge name. There’s a lot of respect there for the club. I think there’s traditionally a lot of respect for Scottish clubs in general.

“You have to perform in it, we did and have done over the years and so have Rangers at that level. I think a lot of people will welcome the fact that there’s a Scottish club back at the big table again.”