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Kris Commons, right, is congratulated by Anthony Stokes after netting on his Celtic debut
Kris Commons, right, is congratulated by Anthony Stokes after netting on his Celtic debut

For Neil Lennon, the passport is already out.

It isn't just the brief hiatus in the winter fixture list that might put a bit of sun on the Celtic manager's back, but the fact his preparations for the early Champions League qualifiers will kick off in earnest in January.

The Hoops boss is keen to have the foundations of his squad set in place as early as possible in order for his team to be as prepared as it can be ahead of the crucial qualifying games which come before the club has kicked a competitive ball.

Celtic have found the competition fierce in terms of being able to attract players to the club, in and mid-season it is a task which is made even harder.

Given the fact there is also a World Cup this summer and many players may not want to break away from their regular routine of club football, it could be a very tough ask for Lennon to successfully bring in players capable of making an impact at Champions League level.

Yet, Kris Commons is proof that it can be done.

It is almost three years since the player arrived from Derby at the tail end of the January transfer window and he has been a pivotal player for the Parkhead side in that time.

The midfielder credits his easy bedding into the club down to the fact he got off to a quick start, as he scored on his debut as Celtic put Aberdeen out of the League Cup.

But he has admitted it can go either way when a player arrives mid-way through a campaign.

He does, though, believe that introducing signings as early as possible could be the key for Celtic getting back into the group stages of the Champions League next season.

"When I came in I had been playing regularly with Derby, I was playing at international level and so when I arrived I was confident and I was fit," he said.

"It wasn't a massive change for me. My debut was at Hampden, I scored within a couple of minutes and right away I just felt that I belonged here.

"Straight away I felt as I fitted in, that I was suited to the kind of football that the manager wanted us to play and that made the move really easy for me.

"I know for other players there can be times when they come in and things are a bit rocky for a while until they find their feet.

"I was lucky to come into a really strong squad with a lot of good players and I think just getting off the mark early really helped me.

"It means there isn't a problem with confidence or belief, you make your name right away.

"The Champions League qualifiers come around very quickly. I was from England and there was no massive culture change, but it can be difficult for an international player - to learn the language, the tempo, how the manager wants you to play with and without the ball.

"I can totally see where the manager is coming from. If we have guys in early then it helps us as well to get to know them and it means that when those games come around we are in a position where we know how they like the ball to be played and we've already built up an understanding."

Commons also believes that the expectation levels have risen since he joined the club.

Having qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League last season, he reckons the bar has been set high - which is why there was so much disappointment last week when Celtic dropped out of Europe altogether.

And he has warned that competing against the cream of European teams, with the significant financial muscle that they have, is no easy task.

"The manager and the board will always be looking to improve - they're never going to buy players just for the sake of it," he said.

"We qualified for the last 16 last season and this season we just weren't able to match that.

"We are expected to compete at the highest level in Europe and for players coming into the club that is the benchmark.

"When I first came here it was all about qualifying for the Champions League but I think the bar has been raised again. It is a big ask to do that every year when you look at the quality that you are up against and the revenue that other clubs obviously have at their disposal.

"People might say we have gone backwards this season because of the way the European campaign went, but I don't really buy into that. The manager knows what we need and I'm sure he's doing what he can to strengthen."

Meanwhile, Commons has made no apology for making his wish for an Old Firm Scottish Cup final public.

Celtic have drawn Aberdeen in the fifth round and the midfielder made no secret of the fact he'd like to play Rangers at some stage.

"It would only be ideal to get Rangers in the final if you win," he said. "But, seriously, the buzz you get prior to it, the build-up, the media intensity, all of it is brilliant. I think there is nothing like it.

"In terms of my career, they are definitely up there with the biggest games that I have played in my career. Whatever has happened, they are still a big fish and you can guarantee if we were to play each other than there would be masses of interest, not just in Scotland but from further afield too.

"It is a competition I think Rangers would fancy themselves to win too. They'll look at it as a chance to show what they can do and I think it would be nice to come up against them at some stage - the final would be good.

"With the final at Celtic Park it would be nice. It would be a special day."


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