What Celtic have accomplished in the Champions League this season is nothing short of miraculous. Pundits and fans alike are in shock and awe of the Hoops qualification to the last 16 of Europe’s elite competition. Yet, one man from the very start, believed his players could and should qualify from a group involving Barcelona, Benfica and Shaktar Donetsk.
That man’s name was Neil Lennon, the former Celtic captain and current manager of the club. Controversy has surrounded the Northern Irishman throughout his tenure as manager of the Hoops, but one can’t deny the man’s ambitions, passion and love for the club. The Parkhead men had to fight their way through two qualifying rounds during the summer. Celtic were then drawn in a group alongside Benfica and Barcelona, winners of six European Cup titles between them, and a Spartak Moscow side that has spent more than £35m over the past two seasons strengthening their squad. Many people, including this writer, believed Celtic did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of qualifying to the knockout stage.
From the offset, Celtic secured 4 points from a home tie against Benfica and a tricky away fixture in Moscow on a plastic pitch. The Hoops mentality and confidence going into the Nou Camp against one of the greatest sides football has ever seen, was at an all-time high. A very spirited performance saw Celtic lose 2-1 in the final minutes of the game, a result in which Neil Lennon’s side could keep their heads held high. A victory over Barcelona in Glasgow and a wonderful display against Benfica and Spartak Moscow in the return fixtures, saw Celtic progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since the 2007/08 season.
The Celtic fans have a team and a season they can be proud of. Furthermore, it is a huge boost for Scottish football as a whole, with Rangers competing in the 3rd Division. This club means everything to the fans, and none more so than the manager himself.
“It means the world to me,” enthused Lennon on the achievement of reaching the knockout phase.