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Is it time for Neil Lennon to quit Celtic?

By Stuart McKinley

Thirteen months ago Neil Lennon was on a high. A massive high, in fact. He had just led Celtic to a famous 2-1 victory over Barcelona in the Champions League, with the Spanish giants' consolation goal only coming in injury time.

Aside from their 1967 European Cup final success against Inter Milan it was Celtic's greatest ever European result.

The fact that it came just a day after the club marked its 125th anniversary made it even more special.

That victory helped the Hoops to finish second in their group behind Barca to qualify for the last 16 of Europe's elite competition and Lennon's stock was higher than ever.

Other clubs were starting to take notice of the Lurgan-born boss. He was considered a contender to be the next manager of Everton – six months before David Moyes left for Manchester United.

He was also linked with the vacancy at Stoke City during the summer after they dispensed with Tony Pulis.

Qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League, however, did Lennon's future career as much harm as good.

You see, mixing it with Europe's big boys gave Lennon the hunger to go and do it again – and again and again.

Despite that being a tough prospect, leaving for a club with little or no chance of even playing in the Europa League didn't quite grab him.

Wanting to leave the big fish swimming in the small pool for choppier waters where the sharks are constantly circling could wait, even though the £800,000 a year he picks up at Parkhead would multiply in the Premier League.

Maybe now, however, after another meeting with Barcelona, the former Northern Ireland international will be thinking again.

There is no disgrace in losing at the Nou Camp. It was the manner of how Celtic were rolled over in Wednesday night's 6-1 defeat in Catalonia that caused concern.

'Weak' and 'half-hearted' were just two ways that Lennon described what he later branded an 'unacceptable performance.'

The problem for Celtic now – and Rangers in the past – comes when trying to lift themselves from the run of the mill domestic programme to then try to punch above their weight when in among the best in Europe.

With Rangers not on the scene in the Scottish top flight they don't even have those four Old Firm games to sharpen their edge and that makes the step up even greater.

Just how long can Lennon have the hunger and desire to keep winning the Scottish title and then struggle to compete at the sharp end in Europe?

More importantly, how long can he afford to stay at Celtic without it harming his future career?

Yes, they are a huge club, but there is a limit to how much Lennon can achieve in Glasgow.

If he wants to take on a big job in England then he must strike while the iron is hot.

This time last year would have been the perfect time, but with a two-legged battle against Juventus on the horizon he was never going to leave.

If Lenny has ambitions to manage in the Premier League then he has to consider going soon – and maybe even before he has finished the job he started.

Like another Ulsterman in Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, he may only get one shot at the big time and has to take it.

Neil Lennon's Parkhead career

The boyhood Celtic fan's dreams came true when he joined his former Leicester City manager Martin O'Neill at Parkhead in December 2000.

Within six months he had helped the Hoops to win the treble and won a Player of the Month award.

Another league title followed 12 months later and in 2003 he was part of the team that lost the Uefa Cup final in extra-time to a Jose Mourinho-led Porto.

He would win two more doubles before leaving in 2007.

Just 10 months later Lennon returned to Celtic in a coaching role, first taking charge of the club's reserve team before being handed the manager's job in March 2010 after Tony Mowbray was sacked.

As boss he has won two Scottish Premier League titles as well as two Scottish Cups

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