Neil Lennon is hoping to build on Celtic’s away draw against Rennes as he targets European progress.
Celtic have been dominant domestically, winning the last nine competitions and collecting 16 bits of silverware during the eight-in-a-row run. Fans have revelled in such success, but also long for the day that the club can once again make a mark in European competition.
Lennon shares that aim, insisting that playing on that stage gives the club “gravitas”, although as Spurs unravelling at home against Bayern Munich proves, how it’s done is another matter altogether.
In recent seasons, Celtic were humbled by Barcelona and PSG, clubs that can absolutely destroy teams on their day. Spurs’ destroyers Bayern Munich are of that ilk and while Celtic suffered two defeats to the German giants in 2017/18, the performance at home meant that the 2-1 defeat was a sore one to take on a night when we deserved more.
While Celtic have been slaughtered for hefty defeats from every angle from the Catalan press to the English media, seemingly oblivious to their financial advantage, Lennon also hit out at those closer to home who jump on the ‘bandwagon’.
Lennon said: “[Spurs] were punished by ruthless finishing. It just shows you that it can happen to the best of teams,” reports the Record.
He continued: “It’s more from England that they look down on the Scottish game.
“But we have produced and are producing good teams and good individuals who have gone on to do great things in the Premier League.
“You don’t take a view from England as they don’t see the game week-in and week-out but sometimes people up here jump on the bandwagon and really let themselves down.”
Tonight’s opponents, Cluj, have already sent a seismic shock through Parkhead. Such is the nature of the game, that progress against the champions of Romania was somewhat expected before reality hit on that shocking night.
Before the match, Dan Petrescu, had hit out along with Edwin Van Der Sar at Ajax at the lack of respect among the game’s powerbrokers for the champions of Scotland and Romania being forced to eliminate each other just to get a crack in Europe’s premier competition.
The fact we play each other again is evidence that a win that night may not have led Celtic into the group stages anyway. Slavia Prague took that slot and have Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan to contend with. Ouch!
In the past, beating the champions of Norway and Romania would have been more than creditable and may have got Celtic into a European Cup quarter-final.
The last time Celtic reached such heady heights, the Bhoys knocked out Partizani Tirana (4-2 on aggregate after losing the first leg in Albania 1-0 and going behind at Celtic Park) and enduring a 0-0 nailbiter in Dundalk after conceding two away goals in the 3-2 first-leg win.
With Hamburg thumping Celtic’s conquerors Real Madrid that 1980 season and Nottingham Forest beating the Germans in the final, the story of that year harks back to times long gone on and off the pitch.
Davie Provan played in that run while fellow modern-day pundit Charlie Nicholas would make his breakthrough for Celtic. The next season, it would be Romanian opposition once again, in the shape of Politehnica Timisoara, in the Cup Winners Cup who delivered a dagger through the heart. Catastrophic defending from Celtic against Romanian sides didn’t begin with Cluj if anyone is brave enough to check out the footage on YouTube.
Despite the odd glory night against Ajax and Sporting Lisbon, the 1980 quarter-final run would be the high watermark for the club until the Seville team had us playing beyond Christmas for the first time in 23 years.
Money has changed football and not all for the better. When you watch a player yet again fail to beat the first man at a corner, it’s a millionaire you’re shouting at.
The stadium that houses these matches is a far cry from the old ground that witnessed much glory along with the occasional horror show on an oft-times rocky European road, while the team enjoy domestic dominance not seen since the days of the Lisbon Lions.
The Lions were and always will be the best to grace the jersey. With a cartel now slicing up the game, dreams of emulating that success now seem long gone without the aid of an oligarch or a sheikh. And even that fakery is no guarantee, as Manchester City know.
The odds seem stacked against us now more than ever, but in 1966, a resurgent Celtic under Jock Stein had emerged from the doldrums to start a new season as newly crowned champions of Scotland. They would end it as champions of Europe. The odds were stacked against them too.
While Spurs’ humbling provides a note of extreme caution, the exploits of Ajax last year or even then 10 men of Club Brugge emerging from the Bernabau with a point this week, give us cause for optimism.
Celtic should always strive to be in with the elite, come what may. The board should do everything in its power to make that possible and to give us the best chance if we get there.
In the meantime, Cluj offers, if not a chance of “revenge”, an opportunity to add some of the gravitas Neil Lennon spoke of. The road to Seville gave the Celtic support it’s best times in Europe since those heady days of Stein, but even that started with a hefty bump as Basel eliminated Martin O’Neill’s side from the Champions League.
With a decent point gained against Rennes, a win tonight would be a good indication as to how far we’ve come since August. It might lead some to reflect on missed opportunities of that night, but three points tonight will also open the door for more to come.