Celtic haven’t reached the last sixteen of the Champions League on many occasions. Only two of Celtic’s three managers that have led the club into the group stage, have made it beyond this point in the competition.
Martin O’Neill was denied on each occasion. Ironically, he exit from the group stage in November 2001 when Celtic took on Juventus at Celtic Park.
Despite the eventual outcome, was a memorable match for the Celtic community. Not only because it was a deserved victory, but that it was revenge for being cheated in Turin.
Sadly, Rosenberg’s failure to win in Portugal meant UEFA Cup football for Celtic. This was just the beginning for the former Celtic manager though.
What O’Neill started back in 2001 was built upon by his successor. Gordon Strachan would take the club further and with what some might say less talented players.
There is no doubt that his team was cheaper. Strachan lost around fourteen of O’Neill’s players during the transition period and more were to follow.
The one key player he did retain was Neil Lennon. Not only was he key player for Strachan, but even after he left to play for Nottingham Forest, he returned to Celtic as a coach.
Now, after a forgettable period by Tony Mowbray, Lennon sits at the helm and is steering a team of his own making. The progress of O’Neill and Strachan has been unquestionably influential on Neil.
Having played for both managers in the Champions League, he knows what it is like to win and lose in these matches. Neil has taken that experience and applied it to his own crop of players.
What has been achieved this season so far is beyond the expectations of many. When Neil said “this is just the beginning” I don’t think any fan expected him to leap forward this quickly.
It’s easy to assume that this sort of progress is achievable for any manager but Lennon is still relatively new on the scene. His managerial career is only a few weeks short of three years and at that stage he began as an interim coach.
Lennon and his opponent this evening, Antonio Conte, have both lived and breathed their respective clubs. They were both dedicated captains on the park and this evening they will be ensuring there touchline role is every bit influential as their playing days.
I don’t believe Juventus will take anything for granted against Celtic tonight but they will be confident nonetheless. With Celtic playing at home though and coming through some tough matches enroute to the last sixteen, their own confidence should ensure that we are in for great match tonight.