Celtic boss Neil Lennon again voices opinion on European schedule

By David Walton

July 9, 2019

Neil Lennon believes that Celtic deserve better when it comes to their Champions League matches at this stage of the season.

Just under 10 years ago, Scottish clubs never had to qualify to get into Europe’s premier club competition. Winning the domestic league was often enough, with the second-placed team even having a pop at a few qualifiers too. Fast forward to now and it’s a whole different ball game.

Celtic have four Champions League qualification matches to negotiate after winning the domestic treble. It’s been that way for three years now. When Lennon left Celtic back in 2014, it was three qualification ties we had to play. In the two years previous, Celtic only had the two to negotiate.

Neil Lennon only had to deal with two qualifying rounds during his first spell as Celtic manager (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

It’s incredible to now think that we enter at the FIRST qualifying round. It’s a joke in truth, but it’s also a symbol of how Scottish clubs have performed in Europe. Speaking in the Daily Record, Lennon said Celtic will just have to get on with it, but bemoaned it at the same time.

“When I played, we might have been straight in or maybe there was one qualifier to negotiate. Now we have negotiate four. I think we deserve better, but we’ll take it as it comes. These are the most difficult games. Group stage of the Champions League is fantastic, but the hard work is getting there.

“We could have had an easier draw. Sarajevo will be tough, but the guys know what’s at stake. I have never been to Sarajevo before, but I have heard a lot about it. I was reading up on what happened in the mid-1990s and it’s fascinating stuff.”

Champions League matches don’t look like lessening anytime soon

Celtic are currently 47th in the UEFA club coefficient rankings. Scotland as a nation, meanwhile, is 20th in the country ranks. The sooner the likes of Aberdeen and Kilmarnock can start making some inroads in the Europa League, the better for Scotland.

Celtic have been the only club flying the flag for our country in the Champions League. Rangers returned to the Europa League last season, but got knocked out in the group stages in a group they really should’ve been qualifying from.

Celtic have been Scotland’s only Champions League representative for the last eight years (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Lennon’s disappointment over the current schedule doesn’t matter. It looks like staying this way for the foreseeable future. That is unless UEFA starts making us qualify even earlier in the preliminary stages….don’t rule that out one day.

Everyone acknowledges that the coefficient system is flawed. There is simply no justice in big nations getting three direct entrants and a fourth given a playoff round to qualify every year. Not when clubs such as Celtic are fighting it out to be champions of their own country only to be swatted aside for clubs that win nothing.

Scott Brown is one player who won’t take Champions League qualification for granted (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Sarajevo, Alashkert, Lincoln Red Imps. These aren’t sides Celtic should have to compete against if we’re being brutally honest. Regardless of what happens in Bosnia tonight, everyone firmly expects Celtic to power past Sarajevo at Parkhead.

But we’ll need to get used to it for now, with no sign of any changes in sight.