Celtic v Spartak Moscow: Neil Lennon counts on success on and off field

Neil Lennon makes his way onto the training ground
Neil Lennon makes his way onto the training ground
Share this article
Have your say

BY AROUND 9.45pm tonight, Neil Lennon could have added another cool €4.5 million to the pot of Champions League gold his Celtic team have already garnered in the tournament this season.

With €1 million for a win and a €3.5 million bonus for making it to the last 16, that is the financial bottom line of what victory over Spartak Moscow can mean to the Scottish champions.

For Lennon, of course, the achievement would be measured more in terms of joyful emotion and personal satisfaction as he seeks to continue 
his development as Celtic 

But that is not to say the 
fiscal consequences of Champions League progress are of no concern to Lennon. He is keenly aware of not only how it may impact on his capacity to strengthen his squad in January, but also of the less heralded 
effect he says it has already had on non-playing staff at the club.

Celtic’s Champions League participation this season – worth a basic €8.6 million before any performances bonuses or matchday revenue is taken into consideration – has insulated them from the wider economic crisis in Scottish football.

“To have this revenue when a lot of people at this club were worrying about their jobs is great,” said Lennon.

“It has probably kept some people behind the scenes here in jobs for the next two or three years.

“A lot of people don’t realise that. Everyone in Scotland is downsizing and we are no 
different. So the revenue coming in just keeps the club on an even keel and keeps morale at the club high.

“Hopefully we can keep progressing the team and adding to it. You always want to enhance the team and, if we get to the last 16, there may be money to improve the team. The money might be there even if we’re not in the last 16.

“I think we have punched highly above our weight in this competition, in terms of the gulf in budgets of the teams 
involved. No-one gave us a prayer coming into this.

“The first step in the ladder was getting into the group stages, which was a great boost to everyone because we knew what the finances would bring. We always thought we had a good young team.

“Maybe now we can sell a player or two for £10million or £15million. We have assets in the team and they have done that through their performances now.

“I want them to keep it going. I want them to have something to really get their teeth into in the New Year and that would be reaching the last 16.”

The qualification equation is more complicated than Celtic would have hoped, their 2-1 defeat against Benfica in Lisbon two weeks ago technically handing the initiative to the Portuguese side.

But Lennon’s men remain favourites to finish second in Group G nonetheless, given their nominally easier assignment at home to already eliminated Spartak, while Benfica travel to face group winners 
Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

The Russian side arrive in Glasgow amid a wretched domestic campaign which has seen Spanish coach Unai Emery sacked, with club chief executive Valery Karpin stepping back into the technical area 
for a second spell in charge of team affairs. Lennon is unsure what level of motivation that Spartak will bring with them but is wary of Karpin’s potential influence.

“Karpin has been around the place for a few years,” observed Lennon. “He knows the players and probably had a hand in bringing the majority of them in. I don’t know what personnel they are going to use.

“I watched their last league game, when they lost 4-2 to Zenit St Petersburg, and they had a couple of players sent off. It was a typical Spartak performance. Going forward they were very good, but they looked a bit vulnerable at the back.

“He [Karpin] will be looking to come and spoil our evening and get some sort of pride back for their own club. That in itself is dangerous. But we have more to play for. I think we need it more than Spartak do and sometimes that can take you a long way.”

James Forrest, Paddy McCourt and Anthony Stokes are 
Celtic’s only injury absentees 
tonight, but Lennon’s most significant selection problem is posed by the one-match 
suspension being served by 
Victor Wanyama.

But, with captain Scott Brown in his best physical condition for some time, Lennon is confident he can compensate for the absence of powerful Kenyan midfielder Wanyama.

“Scott Brown loves these nights and played brilliantly in the first couple of games in the group,” said Lennon. “He is more like 100 per cent fit now, he has felt a lot better with the (hip) 
injury now.

“I don’t know if the cortisone has started to really work. It takes a while for that to really kick in.

“Maybe it is settling in now and he is a lot freer. So having him back is great, while Beram Kayal is starting to show his best form again and Joe Ledley had a break over the weekend and he should be ready. So we should still have a pretty strong 
midfield, though Wanyama is a loss, no doubt about that.”