Lennon expresses confidence in his charges
Celtic manager Neil Lennon arrives for a team training session at Lennoxtown, outside Glasgow, ahead of his side's Champions League last-16, first leg clash against Juventus at Celtic Park tonight. "I don't really need to motivate the players because they know what is at stake." photograph: david moir/reuters
Celtic v Juventus:Neil Lennon has urged his Celtic players to seize the moment of their Champions League last-16 tie with Juventus and warned the Serie A side not to underestimate their Scottish opponents.
Lennon will manage Celtic for the first time in the Champions League’s knockout phase after guiding his team from a group which included Barcelona and Benfica. He now wants his squad to relish their unexpected prominence.
“To qualify was the best thing I’ve done in a managerial sense – to get out of the group with 10 points,” Lennon said. “We might never get this opportunity again. I don’t want people thinking this is going to be an annual thing. So we have to maximise our opportunities.
“We might never get here again. Gordon Strachan did it two years in a row here, Alex McLeish did it [with Rangers] the year before that. So it was almost as if it was going to be a foregone conclusion every year. But it’s such a difficult ride to get here. We have to enjoy these moments. We have given the fans something to believe again, something to dream about. That’s been missing for a long time.”
A sense of external underappreciation has formed a backdrop to Celtic’s European run.
Such sentiment, and the downplaying of his team’s talents, has irked Lennon.
“It would be dangerous to underestimate Celtic,” he said. “We have proved in the Champions League that we can be a match for anyone.”
Asked specifically when his team were underestimated, Lennon replied: “I think we have been through this whole campaign. Going into this game, we are made out to be massive underdogs. I don’t quite see it that way myself.
“We have caught a lot of people’s attention. We have been underestimated as a physical, up-and-at-them British-type team. That is exactly what we are not. We have skilful, technical players in our team and on a big pitch against quality opposition we know they can perform.”
It seems fitting ITV will televise Juventus’s visit to Glasgow live across the United Kingdom. When the draw was made for the Champions League’s group phase, a tweet from the broadcaster’s official account read: “Bye bye Celtic”.
Lennon said: “It was just a cheap shot. It was born out of ignorance and that is something we have had to put up with now for a long time.
“I don’t need to use that. I don’t really need to motivate the players because they know what is at stake and they also know how much they have put in to get here.
“There is a motivation to go even further in this competition. There is a realisation that it is possible but we are going to have to play really, really strongly over both games.
Lennon will give Georgios Samaras every chance to prove his fitness, with the Greek forward struggling to recover from a hamstring problem. Andrea Pirlo has been cleared to play by Juventus.
Juventus have caused a stir in Glasgow by accepting Rangers’ offer of pre-match training facilities. The Italians duly went through their paces at the Murray Park complex yesterday morning before a brief session at Celtic Park later in the day.
“I found some of the criticism strange. The choice was simply a technical one. The clubs reached an agreement, we needed a training pitch with two sets of goalposts so, as far as I was concerned, that was it,” said Juve coach Antonio Conte.