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‘The Champions League came a bit too soon’ Lennon’s big confession

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Neil Lennon has admitted that Celtic weren’t properly prepared for the Champions League qualifiers.

In the middle of August the Irishman was being slaughtered for Celtic’s failure to get past Cluj but the truth is that the blame lay elsewhere.

Lennon was put in caretaker charge towards the end of February after another disastrous January transfer window left the squad short in key areas.

Three right-backs were coming out of contract at the end of the season with Filip Benkovic and Dedryck Boyata in the same situation. With Kieran Tierney out injured and subject to transfer speculation Lennon was walking into a disaster in the making.

It seems like no-one at the club anticipated the problems coming in the summer with Head of Recruitment Lee Congerton eyeing up a reunion with Brendan Rodgers at Leicester.

Lennon had no new signings for the pre-season trip to Austria and Switzerland then had to integrate Boli Bolingoli, Chris Jullien and Hatem Abd Elhamed into the team during Champions League qualifiers.

Celtic’s Europa League results has brought the Irishman plenty of praise but it’s easy to overlook the difficulties that he inherited from four near disastrous transfer windows.

Asked whether he had taken Celtic up a level Lennon told the Daily Record:

That’s for other people to say but in terms of goals scored there’s no question and we wanted to make inroads in Europe. The Champions League came a bit too soon for us but we have been doing brilliantly in the Europa League.

I’m proud of not only winning the group but the way we played against quality sides. It’s given everyone a real flip and enhanced the reputation of the club. Now we have a chance of more silverware on Sunday but we know how hard that’s going to be.

When I took over the pressure was enormous. It was almost a day to day thing. We were playing Rangers in March, I had to win that if I wanted to get the job – then it was the quarter-final and then the semi-final of the Scottish Cup – all those games.

By the time that the transfer window ended Lennon took a side to Ibrox that won convincingly despite a backline of Fraser Forster, Elhamed, Nir Bitton, Jullien and Bolingoli that had barely trained together ahead of their first ever appearance in the same side. There was less than three weeks between the Cluj defeat and winning the Glasgow derby.

Reaching the group phase of the Champions League is worth around £30m to Celtic as well as adding to the value of players.

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