Neil Lennon has been looking back on his original spell at Celtic, as he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his first game as Celtic manager.
The Celtic Star looked back at Lennon’s first game in charge as he stepped into the managerial shoes vacated by Tony Mowbray, following a depressing 4-0 defeat to St Mirren and yesterday we brought you another article showing just how intertwined Lennon’s Celtic career was with the side he defeated in that first game – Kilmarnock.
From being in fear of the sack at 3-0 down a half-time, to a second half comeback that saw Celtic draw 3-3, to a title win at Rugby Park when his charges handed Killie six of the best without reply and clinched the SPL title. Quite the turnaround from Celtic’s rookie manager.
Lennon has also been talking about the biggest victory of his first spell in charge. That famous night under the lights in 2012, when an injury depleted Celtic defeated Barcelona with goals from Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt. It was a momentous victory for Lenny, who was also part of the team that knocked Barca out of the Uefa Cup in 2004. A nice double to have on your C.V.
Lennon also took a moment to reflect on the fact he was only 38 years old when he masterminded that scarcely believable win over Barca, a result that sent shockwaves throughout Europe, now he’s hurtling fast towards the half century mark.
Speaking to the BBC Lennon had this to say on that famous night:
“I’m a year off 50,” the Celtic manager noted. “All of a sudden, it creeps up on you. Where has it all gone? There’s been a lot crammed in and you never really get much time to take stock.”
“I’m standing on the touchline that night and I’m a few feet away from Messi and Iniesta and Xavi – some of the best players who ever played the game,” he said.
“I’m thinking this is what it must be like if you walked up the 18th fairway with Tiger Woods on the Sunday at the Masters or you were ringside watching Muhammad Ali. Proper legends – and here was my team beating these incredible players.”
It’s an interesting contrast using sporting Icons like Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali as a comparison to the talent Barcelona brought to Parkhead that night, and it’s a fair one. To put it quite simply that Barcelona side was one of if not the very best football team ever assembled and Lenny’s Celtic team humbled them.
Even those on the bench that night could have graced the starting eleven of any of the top sides in Europe at the time. Lennon was asked if he could remember the substitutes Barcelona had used that night:
“David Villa was one of them… Who else?”
The other substitutes on that night were Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, two of the finest players in the World in their positions. To have that talent available from the bench simply underlines what a momentous result it was for Celtic, while Lennon pondered on his own options from the bench;
“And we brought on Tony Watt!” Lenny laughed. Not at Tony, of course, but he was a rookie we’d signed from Airdrie for a fee of £100,000. He was a Gallus rookie from Coatbridge, he went to St Pats and he wasn’t the first Bhoy from that school to stick the ball in the Barcelona net. Big Yogi had done it decades before.
“We brought him on for (Mikael) Lustig and Adam Matthews went from left-back to right-back, Charlie Mulgrew went from left-wing to left-back, Georgios Samaras went from centre forward to wide left and we put Tony up there and told him to do what he could. It was the kid’s golden moment – and a golden moment in my life.”
For a manger who seems to have his tactical nous somewhat overlooked, it must be satisfying to think back and remember the decision to bring on Tony Watt whilst at the same time risk moving three other players position, all the while defending a 1-0 lead to Barcelona, was not only brave but ultimately crucial on the outcome of the match.
History shows that Tony Watt scored the second goal, yet with Messi pulling one back for Barca, Lenny’s tactical change meant Celtic had just enough to see the game out for a famous win.
Next time you hear anyone question Lennon tactically a wee reminder of that should put them at their peep.
There’s always time to look back and reflect on one of Celtic’s greatest ever victories. If Neil Lennon is taking the time to reminisce then why don’t we join him?
Grab a cup of tea and sit back and enjoy the match highlights once more.
Stay safe all of you and much like ‘the’ Rangers in the league table. Keep your distance.
And since we’re all stuck at home we thought we’d dig out Geo’s brilliant photos from that night and share them with you today. Hope you enjoy…