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Lennon surprised by swift return
Published : 28 Jul 2010 08:37:00
eil Lennon would never have predicted he would be back in the Champions League as a manager, three years after playing his final game there. Lennon's departure from Parkhead in 2007 signalled the end of his playing career at European football's top table. Despite quickly moving into coaching, it looked certain to be a long time - if ever - before the former Northern Ireland midfielder would be back in the big time. But after being parachuted into the Hoops hotseat towards the end of last season, Lennon is now preparing for his European managerial debut in tonight's Champions League third qualifying round first leg at Braga. "I always wanted to come back in some capacity but I didn't think it would happen so quickly," said Lennon, who thanked former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan for appointing him to the Parkhead coaching staff in the first place. "I'll be eternally grateful for Gordon's intervention, bringing me back as a coach. "Obviously, the opportunity came up under difficult circumstances last season (following the sacking of Tony Mowbray) and I just tried to make the most of it. "You know what the club means to me and I want to take it forward as best I can." And despite being a rookie at this level, the 39-year-old was showing few signs of jitters yesterday after he and his squad arrived in Portugal for tonight's game. "I actually felt more nervous as a player," he insisted. "The nerves haven't kicked in yet - if there are going to be any at all. "I feel quite calm about things. I'm looking forward to it and looking forward to how the team settle and gel - hopefully gel as quickly as possible." Lennon, who made Scunthorpe striker Gary Hooper his sixth summer signing yesterday, hinted tonight's line-up will be significantly different from that which finished last season. He added: "I'm excited about the players we've brought in, I'm excited about the nucleus of players that I've inherited. "We're trying to build a squad not just to progress in Scotland but also having a go at things in Europe as well." Another target, Israel midfielder Biram Kayal, moved closer to joining Celtic when he flew into Glasgow yesterday with his agent to finalise his transfer from Maccabi Haifa. And one player leaving Parkhead, at least on a temporary basis, is striker Paul McGowan, who has joined St Mirren on a season-long loan deal. Lennon believes he has enough firepower at his disposal to cause Braga problems tonight but believes the key to solving the riddle of Celtic's appalling European away record also lies at the other end of the pitch. "Ultimately, we would like to create chances," he said. "Obviously, if we can not give away a goal in the tie, it would be very, very important for us. "Early on, we'll be respecting Braga but not showing too much respect. "And we've got to go and play as well; we've got to have a belief in ourselves."