EXCLUSIVE: Celtic legend Davie Hay says all for one...won for all!

NOT many things you achieve in football can be considered a transformer.

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Kris Commons slams home the penalty kick which sent Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League
Kris Commons slams home the penalty kick which sent Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League

But Celtic qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League certainly has the potential to become that.

You can never budget for a run in Europe, let alone accruing the £21million which is coming their way for this run.

They had to negotiate two qualifying rounds before they even got to the group stage, where the big money is made.

Now, as they await the draw for the last 16, everyone involved should take massive pride and a well-earned pat on the back.

That's not just Neil Lennon and his players, though they are the ones who have had to do the business on the pitch.

But there are so many other important people behind the scenes, from Neil's backroom team to the men who have made the big financial calls over the years, often against shouts to splash the cash.

Peter Lawwell, along with guys like financial director Eric Riley, have kept control of the money, and this has allowed the club to invest wisely in players who are now returning a huge profit for them.

I'm confident the Champions League millions now coming in will also be used to best effect, and Neil has made it clear he wants to try and channel some of it towards tying down Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper. I can understand his thinking, but I would also consider trying to extend the contract Fraser Forster signed in the summer, because he is a guy already high on the list of men clubs in England would like to have.

Like Victor and Gary, Fraser's performances in the Champions League have brought him to their attention, and they are all at an age when they are going to get better.

I am not too concerned the big offers will come in when the window opens in January because they are all cup-tied in the Champions League, have the last 16 to look forward to, and Celtic do not need to sell because of the money they have made this season.

But next summer could be a different story, and it will be a big test of Celtic's resolve.

That said, the strategy the club have adopted for the last few years has been based on identifying and recruiting raw talent, developing these players and giving them exposure on stages like the Champions League, then selling for a profit before re-investing the money made to keep the cycle going.

Key to all of this is getting the right players, and this is never easy when you are competing with the kind of money which clubs in the Premiership can offer.

But being able to offer Champions League football is a big carrot, and this season's achievement will help Celtic in their recruitment. Neil is also integral to this success story as he has to make it happen on the pitch. It has been a lot for Neil to deal with, and, as Dermot Desmond said, he is still learning to be a manager.

He has already grown in stature, not just as manager, but as a Celtic manager.

Neil is a very astute tactician, as he showed again on Wednesday when he identified Spartak were outmanoeuvring them in midfield.

He switched from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 to counter this, and it worked. Neil knew they had to go for it, and, in the second half, put on the players to make this happen.

I actually believe not being involved in Old Firm games has helped Neil develop as he was always judged on how he fared and behaved in them, and he found it difficult not to become too embroiled in all that surrounded these matches.

Now he is judged on what he is doing in Europe, and looks more composed as a result.

The defence has tightened up a lot, and the core of the midfield is good. Even without Victor, Scott Brown and Beram Kayal gave them security, though you could see by the lack of power in his shots that Scott is functioning at less than 100 per cent.

Gary's goal was an exceptional finish and you always need to find a place for Charlie Mulgrew because of what he can bring to the game.

But it's in the wide areas Celtic really hurt teams in Europe, and Kris Commons really rises to the occasion.

As for Georgios Samaras, he must send up a prayer to the Greek god Zeus before these games, because he seems to carry superpowers.

Neil is right to be proud of every one of them. But while so much talk will be about holding on to these players, the club will also have to be wary of approaches for Neil himself.

When you consider the money spent by clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, who failed to reach the last 16, what Neil has done on his budget will have raised his stock considerably.

But while other clubs would be able to offer him more by way of salary, could any give him the job satisfaction?

I seriously doubt it, but Celtic should still look at rewarding his achievement by putting before him a new contract.

Finance

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