By Stephen Temlett:
Peter Grant doesn’t know who Celtic would want to get in the last 16 of the Champions League he just knows that whatever team they Hoops face it will be a challenge.
The ex-Celtic player was speaking in Glasgow about the upcoming festive football fixtures but had no doubts about the highlight for Celtic.
The Champions League is the pinnacle of European club football and Grant believes Celtic will face a stern test in whoever they get in the draw.
He said: “I don’t think it’s a question of “who they’d like to get” because I think every team is going to cause its own problems. You’re talking about the elite in Europe and they have all done exceptionally well.
"I think a lot of people predicted Celtic to finish bottom of the group but to get as far as they have with the performances they have given against the teams they’ve played is phenomenal. To say “they want this team of that particular team” would be difficult.
“Coming to Celtic Park is the big thing for them because anyone they get away from home is going be tough but the support the fans have given them throughout the games so far has been nothing short of phenomenal. I think that the big thing is if they get a result to keep them in the tie away from home then coming back to Parkhead is going to be key for them.”
The ex-Villa assistant admitted that he has been surprised by Celtic’s European success so far. Like so many others he had written off their chances of qualification but has been thrilled that they have progressed.
He said: “I’ve been very surprised. When I saw the draw I was like everyone else and though that if they got 4 or 5 points they would be delighted. I was thinking they would do well getting a draw here or there pick up a win at Parkhead.
"When they went to Barca and played as well as they did and to lose the goal so late was so disappointing. I genuinely believed that would knocked the stuffing out of them. But they are where they are not by luck but by hard work and they have got what they deserved. It’s justly deserved after how the players have performed."
It’s not just the players that the former Birmingham manager was heaping praise on but the man who has led the Celtic squad this year; manager Neil Lennon. In just his second year of management Lennon has guided Celtic to the knock-out stages in Europe and Grant has commended the gaffer. He also understands “Champions League hangover” and says that it shouldn’t be much of a problem now.
He continued: “It’s phenomenal because the manager has got to put the tactics on the pitch then the players have to perform and they have to have the belief they can go out and win and achieve things and that comes from Neil and coaching staff around him. He has the belief and the players can feel that confidence.
"It’s difficult for Celtic because of the way the Scottish game is just now because they don’t have the Rangers game and Rangers aren’t chasing them. There’s a different onus on Celtic they’re expected to run away with the SPL but also they’ve got to do it on the European front and they’ve done exceptionally well. I think some of the results have proven that it’s difficult to come off the high of European games and back into the league against so-called “smaller teams” but all in all he must be delighted with the job he’s done so far.”
The question of whether or not the league is already a done deal has been asked since the start of the season but Grant remains coy over the subject.
“I think over the long run its going be finished it’s a matter of time. Celtic are in the Champions League but they get a wee break and they can concentrate on getting as many points between now and then. I think that’s very important for them but I think the boys will have the bit between their teeth because they will all want to play in this next European game but no doubt there will be a gap at the end of the season.”
Another subject that has been regularly discussed is the lack of Old Firm matches and their effect on the Scottish game. Grant is sad to see the current predicament of arch-rivals Rangers and believes there will be Celtic fans who feel the same way.
“Even Celtic fans would love to see Rangers in the league even if it was just for the Old Firm games," said Grant. "Old Firm games are the pinnacle. You talk to people down in England who have came up to watch them, people who have been involved in them and people like myself who have been brought up in it you understand it.
"When you talk to people down south and hear the way people talk about it that you realise how big a game it is.
"It does take away from it when you don’t have these games but for Celtic they won’t be complaining about this at the moment in time. If they win the league they won’t complain because no one looks back at who was in the league they just focus on who the champions were.”