It all starts in the intimidating surrounds of the Kosevo City Stadium in Sarajevo next month.
But Martin O’Neill believes Neil Lennon’s experience of navigating the difficult journey through the UEFA Champions League qualifiers can help the Parkhead side make a return to the group stages of the competition this autumn.
The Hoops returned for pre-season training last Monday, with their focus immediately on preparing to face the champions of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
It’s the first leg of a four-pronged qualification phase that they hope will take them back into elite company in Europe’s premier tournament.
Former boss O’Neill expects the fact Lennon has been over the course before, as both player and manager, can strengthen his hand when it comes to a successful campaign.
“He’ll be terrific, I’m sure of it,” said O’Neill, who led the club to the 2003 UEFA Cup Final in Seville. “He knows what the qualifiers are all about, having played in them and having managed in them.
“These games are huge for Celtic, and you know that right away by the pressure that is around them.
“You sense it, and part of the reason for that is not just about wanting to be on a stage where Celtic belong and where the club feel, rightly, they belong.
“But also because the timing of the games is so very hard. If you are bringing in players and you are trying to gel a team together, it is enormously difficult.
“Teams that you’d see off with very little bother in October or November can be a real banana skin if you are playing them in your first competitive games of the season.
“There is a real pressure around them.”
The financial difference in a season that brings forth Champions League football and one that doesn’t is stark.
The Parkhead side posted a bank balance of £38.6-million from their last financial results.
But the £20m sale of French striker, Moussa Dembele, camouflaged the sharp decline in income from the previous season.
Trading profit fell from £23.7m to £6.2m, and revenue dropped to £50m from £71.5m.
Broadly speaking, Celtic can expect to bank between £25m-30m for qualification.
For O’Neill, however, the perspective of players and managers is restricted to simply playing football against Europe’s best.
“People talk about the finances and I understand that, I really do,” said O’Neill.
“It opens the door to a lucrative avenue that is otherwise closed off to Celtic.
“But I can honestly say that in my time at the club, getting into the Champions League – and trying to get one or two results there in the group stages – was all about prestige.
“I’m not sure the money aspect would have entered my head, and I’m pretty sure it is the same for the players.
“You want to test yourself in the biggest club tournament of them all. You want the chance to go and compete against the best players and the best teams.
“I am not too sure that there is anywhere more special than Celtic Park on those big European nights.
“You thought the roof might come off some nights, and they are very special memories.
“But the summer is tense because it is all about getting there. And that’s where I think Neil’s experience can be so important.”
Lennon himself seemed a different breed this time around as he steered Celtic towards the treble Treble in the aftermath of Brendan Rodgers’ sudden departure in February.
But O’Neill expects that it will be a more familiar sight in the dugout in the new season.
His former manager could understand why Lennon was forced to be on his best behaviour as he took temporary charge.
“I think it’s inevitable there would have been a bit of that,” said O’Neill. “It was very unusual circumstances and you are really just wanting to see it through – which is not a given.
“People might look and see that he got them over the line and brought in the treble Treble, but he still actually had to go and do that. That is enormous pressure.
“So I can appreciate why he might have been just trying to stand off a little bit.
“But the good thing is that he has had time to assess what he has, and he’ll look to put his own stamp on it now.
“He’ll know the way he wants them to play, and he’ll have one or two ideas about who he’ll want to bring in.”
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