Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Champions League or bust for Celtic and for our Bhoy Lenny too

Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Celtic manager Neil Lennon

Contrasting fortunes for the Old Firm this week. The ego that is Charles Green has finished doing the hokey cokey at Rangers and is finally OUT of Ibrox.

For Ally McCoist's sake let's hope it stays that way.

And then there's Celtic who could be going OUT of the Champions League after losing 2-0 to Shakhter Karagandy in the away leg of the play-off for the group stages.

Some of the Celtic players may have played like a bunch of Borats in Kazakhstan on Tuesday night, but the Parkhead board must share the responsibility for this shocking defeat.

They have coined it in over the summer selling last season's Champions League heroes Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson for a combined £20m to English clubs, but they simply have not invested enough in recruiting adequate replacements for the trio.

Celtic also made £20m from their European heroics last season, so there has been cash to splash.

No wonder the Celtic supporters are fuming.

There is a feeling that the board have tried to gain entry into the Champions League's lucrative group stages on the cheap.

Neil Lennon can't be too happy either.

Without Rangers to battle at the top end of Scottish football, Celtic need Champions League football.

Look what it brought the Hoops last season. That unforgettable victory over Barcelona in Glasgow and a place in the last 16 of the most prestigious club competition in the world thanks to the outstanding efforts of Lurgan native Lennon and his team.

Celtic won the SPL and Scottish Cup in the 2012-2013 campaign, but it was their participation in the Champions League that everyone was talking about.

Those games kept their season alive.

Unless they can overturn a two goal deficit at Parkhead next week, Celtic's season will virtually be over before it has started.

Yes, they may have the Europa League to fall back on but as captain Scott Brown has already pointed out that will be no consolation.

It's a bit like preparing to gorge yourself on the finest banquet ever only to be told you'll have to make do with a lump of stale bread and water.

Financially it would have a huge impact too with the Europa League worth just 12% of what can be earned in the Champions League.

Domestically Celtic will run away with the title with such ease that it will become boring for the fans, players and even the manager.

Lennon's an ambitious bloke.

He wants to be challenged, but without Champions League football, he'll not get much of that in the weeks and months ahead.

Considered for the Everton job in the summer, other English teams are now tracking the former Northern Ireland midfielder. Watch this space.

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