Exclusive interview: Neil Lennon on beating Manchester United as Celtic captain in 2006 and beating Barcelona as Celtic boss in 2012

Exclusive interview: Neil Lennon on beating Manchester United as Celtic captain in 2006 and beating Barcelona as Celtic boss in 2012


These nights include the likes of their first and only European Cup win in 1967, the famous 2-1 win over Barcelona in 2012, and the Shunsuke Nakamura-inspired 2006 victory over Manchester United. 

Neil Lennon was a man who was part of two of those results as a captain and as a manager. 

Lennon made 305 appearances for Celtic, winning five league titles, four FA Cups, two league cups and reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final during his time at Celtic. He also captained Celtic to the 2007 Scottish Cup Final in his final game, bowing out with a League and Cup double.  

The Lurgan man also became 4th man in Celtic's history to win three league titles in a row for the famous Scottish club as their manager.  

This week Lennon sat down with the Irish Post for the first part of an exclusive interview. He reflected on beating Manchester United in 2006 as Celtic's captain and managed Celtic to victory against a Barcelona-inspired Messi side in 2012.  

Neil Lennon on that famous win over Manchester United in 2006   

Manchester United played Celtic in the Champions League in 2006. Celtic won the game at Celtic Park thanks to a wonder freekick from Japanese star Shunsuke Nakamura.  

United dominated the game and near the end Louis Saha missed a penalty after a brilliant save from Arthur Boruc. 

The famous result meant that Celtic, who had never made the last 16 in the Champions League reached the knockout stages that year.  

Lennon, the captain that night, reflected on the famous win over United. 

"We had lost the reverse fixture at Old Trafford 3-2, and we played well, so you know coming into that game we were up against one of the best teams in Europe, "said the ex-Celtic captain speaking to Football Betting and the Irish Post

"We didn't play well first half. United were the dominant team, and we didn't play as well as we could, but in the second half, we did.  

"Obviously, Nakamura produces that brilliant skill. It's one of the best freekicks.  

"I thought we were hard done by with the penalty decision, but Boruc, who was in great form, made a brilliant save.  

"At the final whistle, you know it's a brilliant scalp and win, but what we didn't know is that the result put us through to the last-16 for the first time as a club. It was a tremendous night for the club."    

Adding further on what happened in the Celtic dressing room that night, Lennon admitted that the Celtic team were jubilant with the result.  

"We were jubilant to take that scalp from the team that would go onto to win the Champions League against Chelsea the following year and spoke volumes of the team that night," added the Lurgan native.  

Neil Lennon on Celtic beating Barcelona with Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, and co in 2012  

Lennon would eventually go on to manage Celtic, and one of the most famous nights in Celtic history was the 2-1 win over the current European Champion's Barcelona in 2012.  

Barcelona had players on their roster that included the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Javier Mascherano, David Villa, and Lionel Messi at the peak of his powers.  

Celtic won the game in Glasgow thanks to goals from Victor Wanyama and debutant Tony Watt a day after the Scottish club's 125th anniversary.  

Regarding that famous Champions League win, Lennon claimed that the Barcelona game was ranked higher than the Manchester win in 2006.  

"Barcelona for me was the best result for me because you're managing the team. You're playing arguably the best club side in world football at the time.  

"That was in 2012, and this was months after they beat Manchester United in Wembley (2011). That was the best club performance I'd ever seen.  

"So, to beat them after we lost in the 93rd minute at the Nou Camp two weeks earlier spoke volumes and the quality of player I had at the time.  

"To beat Barcelona on the 125th anniversary was remarkable for many reasons."   

The most challenging task for Lennon and his troops at the time was not only stopping Barcelona but also trying to halt a freakish Lionel Messi, who went onto to score an astonishing 91 goals that calendar year.  

The Barcelona player shattered the old record of 85 that was held by Gerd Muller set in 1972 that year. 

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 07: Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster denys Barcelona player Lionel Messi . (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

When asked how he and his coaching staff set about stopping the Argentine, Lennon said, " You do need luck, there's no question about that, especially the form he was in at the time."   

"You need your goalkeeper to play well, and I had a brilliant keeper in Fraser Foster, who on many occasions for Celtic was magnificent.  

"You need to be disciplined and concentrated."  

“I went to see them a week before in a game against Deportivo de La Coruña, and they were 3-0 up within 10 minutes, and I turned to my assistant coach and said, 'I think we are in a bit of trouble here'.  

"But the game ended up 5-4, and Coruna's goal came from a corner, freekick, a penalty, and an own goal, so we thought right set plays. Let's work on that."  

Celtic took the lead through a header from Victor Wanyama in the first half, and later in the second half, Tony Watt raced through to slide it past Victor Valdes for 2-0   

Messi scored Barcelona's goal, but Celtic held onto the record of a famous victory on a special night for the club.  

“Tony scored in the 83rd minute, and I turned to Johan Mjallby and said, 'we might get a draw here' after being 2-0 up, but it was Messi who scored, and I think it was the 92nd minute.  

"I think we had lost in the 93rd minute in the reverse fixture 2-1, and I'm saying to God ', please don't let them score again, come on boys, don't let this happen again.” 

"Thankfully, we were able to see that out. That was over ten years ago now, and people still talk to me about that night and how they felt. 

"Yeah, it was a great occasion for everyone involved in the club."   

Lennon's prediction for the Scottish League Cup final 

Lennon's old side Celtic will be favourites when the face Rangers in Sunday's Scottish League Cup final, but it won't be as straightforward as it seems.  

"Well both teams are in really good form. Celtic are imperious domestically. You know Rangers had a very inconsistent first half of the season, but the results of late have good as of late, but I'd make Celtic favourites," explained the former Celtic player.  

"They aren't overwhelming favourites by any means, but it's all on the day. I think Celtic will win it by the odd goal. They have a fantastic mentality at the minute, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rangers won it either.  

"It's very difficult to call any Celtic Rangers game at any time. When it's a cup final form does not really matter.  

"They both had brilliant wins the weekend, Celtic beat Aberdeen, Rangers had a great result against Livingston which is a really difficult place to go so physiologically both teams will have their tails going into the game.  

"That matters very little though. It's all about getting the preparation right and hopefully for both managers they can be as prepared as they can."   

The Old Firm game at Hampden Park. kicks off at 3.00 pm   

Rangers vs. Celtic is exclusively live on Viaplay Sports.  

Coverage gets underway on Viaplay Sports 1 at 2pm, one hour before kick-off.  

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Cameron Carter-Vickers of Celtic challenges Conner Goldson of Rangers Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)