”Those games used to annoy the heck out of me,” Martin O’Neill

It remains to be seen if this summer will be any different of course, but Celtic habitually lack preparedness for European qualifiers season after season, with incomings and outgoings rarely if ever close to concluded by the time qualifiers come around. That as much as the early start and pre-season rustiness has often led to Celtic’s downfall when it comes to early season Euro encounters.

This time around however, Celtic go straight into the group stages of the Champions League and as reported in Daily Record former Celtic boss Marin O’Neill believes that extra time to prepare in pre-season will have a hugely positive impact for Ange Postecoglou.

“They got straight in to the Champions League group stage. When was the last time a Celtic side did that – 2008? Did I help Gordon Strachan get there? I don’t think he ever thanked me!

“But it’s huge. That is the biggest thing, not having to play teams you would beat in October but are difficult in the third week in July. Those games used to annoy the heck out of me. Going to Lithuania or something, those games really concerned me.

“People would say, ach, you’ll win this easily. No, you’ve had two weeks training and you are straight in. Going straight in (to the Group Stages) is a huge boost for Celtic.

“Your whole outlook changes. You are not under pressure in pre-season, you are ready to go. It’s fantastic.”

Of course, the preparation time is one of many bonuses for Postecoglou, another lies in the recruitment process itself, and O’Neill is certain Champions League Group stage football is a far more enticing prospect when it comes to targeting players rather than selling a Champions League dream that is reliant on convincing targets that qualification is likely.

 Celtic manager Martin O’Neill is mobbed by supporters at the end of the Scottish Premier League match between Kilmarnock and Celtic at Rugby Park on 18 April, 2004 in Glasgow, Scotland. Celtic won the game 1-0 to secure the Scottish Premier League Title. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

“Is it a big selling point? Absolutely. The club – and the same goes for (the)Rangers – is the star and is its own selling point. But going straight into the Champions League is another story.

“If I’m a player plying my trade in the Dutch league for example, which is very strong, but the chance to get in to Celtic and straight in the Champions League would be something to really think about. That’s where you boost your own image if you do well enough. It’d be an easier task to recruit when you have that.”

O’Neill also believes those who are retained from the current squad will be just as key as those who come through the door, as the manager will need to weigh up the loyalty he may wish to show to those who have got Celtic this far, with whether they have the ability to not just play at Europe’s top table but also have the requisite skills to make an impact .

Celtic’s manager Martin O’Neill at the match between Celtic and Hearts at Celtic Park on April 3, 2004 i (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

“I just hope he doesn’t phone me for any advice. I think he’ll know that himself and it’s about trying to get a better players for that level. Obviously he’ll show loyalty to the ones who got them there but in his own mind he’ll be thinking about carrying it further.

“I’d think he’d be trying to strengthen the side to compete in Europe.”

And if any manager knows about the weight of expectation domestic success in a debut season brings on a manager, when it comes to competing in Europe, it’s Martin O’Neill, and he believes whilst Postecoglou received little pressure to perform in Europe last season, given the priority was to retain a unlikely league title, that will not be the case this season, with O’Neill pointing out quite rightly the European progression of a club on the other side of the city will consequentially have an impact on the demands made on Celtic in the season ahead.

“I think after the start last season the manager had to almost disregard Europe and concentrate on the league. That’s what he did and now the expectation is higher. They are in the Champions League and of course there will be great nights.

“But they have to address European football now and compete.  Celtic’s results in recent years have not been good enough. There has been an upsurge in the Scottish game with Celtic winning the league and (the)Rangers getting to the Europa League final.

“European football matters a good deal, obviously. You look at the Champions League but you look at the (the)Rangers run. People sat up and took notice, especially the Dortmund win and now it’s over to Celtic.”

Niall J


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About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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