Celtic hit buy line in Euro plan

THE holidays are fast approaching for Celtic's tiring stars.

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Stefan Johansen has pleased Neil Lennon with his progress since signing in January
Stefan Johansen has pleased Neil Lennon with his progress since signing in January

For some, they could start the day after the Premiership title is sewn up.

If the Hoops continue in their winning vein, that will happen next Saturday - at the latest - when Ross County follow today's opponents, St Mirren, and Partick Thistle on Wednesday in trying to derail the Parkhead bandwagon.

Neil Lennon has taken time out from planning his tactics for today's game against the side second bottom in the table to look beyond flag day.

And, while the draw for this season's Champions League quarter-finals caught his attention when it was made yesterday, it is to the qualifiers in mid-July he is already looking.

Confirming that World Cup-bound Efe Ambrose and Emilio Izaguirre could be the first to be invited to pack their bags for an early family break, and that their team-mates who have done most to get Celtic to the verge of their third title in three years will soon follow, Lennon explained it is a plan which worked for them last time around.

Mind you, he couldn't resist commenting that it was "only just" as he recalled how tight it was with Shakhter Karagandy in the play-off.

The extreme importance these games represent in terms of Celtic's year - both on the pitch and financially -can't be overstated.

Which is why so much pre-planning goes into getting the players there in the best possible condition.

Lennon conceded that, if they don't qualify for the Group Stage for the third time in a row, the drop in income may have to be offset by a reluctant sale.

He said: "Certainly, if we don't make the Champions League, that could be a realistic scenario.

"But, if we do, then, maybe we don't have to sell."

Lennon has always been a believer you should build from a position of strength, infamously getting into trouble with major shareholder, Dermot Desmond, when he went public with that view while still a player post-Seville.

But, with age - and position - has come understanding, and he accepts his job is to continue to identify young talent he can bring to the club and mould into players good enough to get the club into the money-pit which is the Champions League.

"Again, we will try to bring players in who we feel are good value for money and have a resaleable value in the future," said Lennon.

"We have been really pleased with Virgil van Dijk, Nir Biton and Stefan Johansen.

"There is more to come from Teemu Pukki, Amido Balde and Derk Boerrigter.

"So, the squad is a lot stronger than it was earlier in the season."

To keep things in perspective, Manchester United manager Davie Moyes' budget is reported to hinge on whether they get a place in next season's Champions League, though Lennon was moved to qualify this.

"United can sign players if they don't reach the Group Stages, but maybe not the ones they want.

"It's the same for every top club in their domestic countries.

"If they want to progress in the Champions League and win their own domestic leagues, the money the Champions League brings in is imperative."

So, the wheels are being set in motion for Celtic's next bid to reserve a place at the top table.

Or rather, things are about to be put into neutral to allow batteries to recharge.

"We've been pretty much non-stop for two years," said Lennon.

"Some players are going to the World Cup, so we're very mindful they may have to go from there straight into the Champions League qualifiers.

"We want to win the league as quickly as possible, then give them some rest and recuperation between now and when they join up with their countries.

"We'll let them go in the period between winning the league and the end of the season.

"It is important they do get some rest as it's going to be pretty intense for them in the months after the domestic season ends.

"As for the others, we want to get everyone back on June 24, including all internationals who are not part of the World Cup."

Among those reporting back will be Tony Watt, whose scoring exploits in the Champions League tie against Barcelona has since been extensively overshadowed by his problems while on loan with Belgian club, Lierse.

Lennon had hoped the experience would help the 20-year-old mature, or, at least, appreciate what he had at Celtic.

But a series of fall-outs with Lierse coach, Stanley Menzo, has not sat well with the Hoops boss.

Despite this, Lennon is ready to bring Watt back into the squad and said: "I spoke to Tony's agent at the weekend.

"It's not ideal and we do hope Lierse bend a little bit as well.

"I'm not overly enamoured with their coach coming out publicly and singling him out.

"I don't think that's the done thing, particularly with a young boy and one who is our player. And we are helping Lierse out.

"There are issues which Tony needs to tidy up on, but I think it could have been handled better by Lierse as well.

"We've been pretty pleased with the majority of reports on his performances, and he will be here in the summer."

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