By Tom Blackburn
Former Celtic manager Neil Lennon has revealed he told Brendan Rodgers that the club’s Champions League play-off against Hapoel Beer Sheva are their biggest games of the season.
Lennon now manages Hibernian, but twice guided the Hoops through the qualifiers and into the main draw of the Champions League when he was the Hoops boss.
Celtic will reach the lucrative group stages of Europe’s elite competition if they overcome the Israeli side in the two-legged clash.
He has spoke to current boss Rodgers and told him the qualifiers are both awful and great.
“I think Brendan knows what’s at stake. It sets the whole season up brilliantly,” Lennon said to BBC Scotland.
“I have spoken to him about it personally. I said, ‘look, these are your biggest games of the season’.
“The build-up is awful – it’s just like a Celtic-Rangers game. But once the game’s underway, it’s great.
“They are awful to negotiate. You don’t know who you’re going to get, you don’t know if the players are ready yet.”I think the Celtic players are up to speed now, judging by the performances of late.
“Knowing you’re going back in [to the group stage] and what it means to the club and all those big games to look forward to, it’s special.”
Hapoel beat Greek side Olympiacos to reach the play-off stage.
“They’ve got a tough draw,” Lennon added. “I’ve signed an Israeli goalkeeper [Ofir Marciano]. I asked him about Hapoel, he said, ‘they’re a very good side’.
“I think Celtic will need to take something from Glasgow to there to protect because I think they’re a good side at home.
“Olympiacos – they’ve been regular last-16 campaigners over a number of years so if it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone.”
Celtic face Hapoel on Wednesday night at Parkhead, before the return fixture next Tuesday.
They have stumbled through the previous rounds, which included an embarrassing first leg defeat to amateur side Lincoln Red Imps before they overcame the 1-0 deficit to progress.
In the most recent qualifying round they drew against FC Astana from Kazakhstan in the first leg, before a 92nd minute Moussa Dembele penalty won the tie at Parkhead.
The Glasgow giants completed the signing of Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Dorus de Vries this week.
De Vries has become Rodgers’ fifth summer signing, after Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele, Kristoffer Ajer and Kolo Toure all moved to Celtic Park.
Having won the Scottish Premiership last season, Celtic are now bidding for their six straight title but face stiff competition with Rangers returning to the top flight.
In other Celtic news, their new signing wants to be the Glasgow giants answer to Ronaldinho.