Having accepted an invitation to attend next week's annual Uefa coaching conference in Nyon, Neil Lennon has spent recent times fretting about the idea of fronting up to the likes of Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho not as the man who masterminded the downfall of Barcelona, but as the guy whose side just crashed out to the champions of Kazakhstan. Now, though, Celtic can walk tall into the Continent's elite club competition, allowing their manager to do so at the home of Uefa.
"I'm going [to Switzerland] for a coaching convention, so I'm looking forward to that," said Lennon. "But that was in the back of my mind - going there not as a Champions League manager. The gravitas that gives you. Little things like that, they all add up. Walking into the room and thinking you belong, not as the guy who lost to the Kazakhstanis - what are you doing here?"
In the immediate aftermath of Celtic earning their place back among Europe's elite with Wednesday's 3-0 win over Shakhter Karagandy, the manager unburdened himself of all the emotions which had clearly been building up beneath the surface for the last six to seven weeks. The Northern Irishman railed against sections of the press, some of his side's own supporters who frequent internet forums and even the club's own directors. While he had calmed down by the time Thursday's draw paired them with European heavyweights Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax, Lennon conceded that the unique circumstances surrounding qualifying ties can put him at loggerheads even with his own chief executive. Most trying of all for the 42-year-old was having to negotiate such vital ties without key men Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Kelvin Wilson, whose sales were offset only partially by the signing of new players seen mainly as works in progress. Regardless of how his team might have been weakened, Lennon knows that the responsibility for failing to qualify would have begun and ended with him.
"I think it puts my relationship with everybody under stress," said Lennon. "Not in personal terms but workwise it becomes stressful. The board never demanded anything - they never said to me you have to make the Champions League - but I think probably the cushion for [not qualifying] was that we sold three players for £20m. Now two of those we probably felt were leaving anyway, but we didn't envisage Kelvin going and that was a bit of a blow. But it is more testament to the core of players we still have. When you lose your mainstay centre-half, a key midfielder and your top goalscorer for three seasons no matter who you are, whether you are Barcelona, Liverpool, or frigging Scunthorpe, it really bites you.
"The only thing you think about is qualifying," he added. "And the only other thing you think about is not qualifying. Seriously. You sit in the house, you're there but you're not there. When you're with your family and friends you drift off. It is tough."
Referring to the negativity he objected to so strongly after the game, the Celtic manager used Georgios Samaras as a case in point. "He was fantastic for me last year in Europe, probably [our] player of the year in the Champions League, then he has one poor game in Kazakhstan and gets absolutely slaughtered," Lennon said. "I don't mind criticism of the team or me personally if it is constructive, but sometimes it is venomous. And you think that is not an environment which is conducive to thriving, it really isn't. I do have respect for the majority of journalists in this country, but I was basically looking at forums, and hot lines and phone-ins, and all we want to do is talk down about things and it really sucks the life out of you at times.
"I don't think I get as emotional as I once did, which comes with experience more than anything else. There's an image you have to project to the players that says 'you know what, lads, everything's alright, we can still do this'. But in reality you're like a swan - you look good on the outside but underneath you're going like mad."
Lennon's frustration aside, Celtic did what they had to do and now face an epic Champions League group. Their fixtures include a renewal of acquaintances with Barcelona, who they met in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2012, a fourth pairing in the space of a decade against AC Milan, and a first encounter with Ajax since 2001. In what could be a difficult second season at the very higest level for this Celtic side, Swedish full-back Mikael Lustig knows they are unlikely to be taken lightly again, even if many external observers expect them to finish at the bottom of the group. Whatever transpires, he is just relieved it was the name of Celtic, and not Shakhter, which went into Group H.
"To be sitting there watching the draw and see Karagandy there instead of Celtic ... I don't want to think about it," Lustig said. "We felt like if we were going to lose against this team, we were going to regret it the whole of our lives.
"Of course, it is going to be tougher this year, the second year, it should be tougher," he added. "They all know we did it really well last year so I don't think teams are going to underestimate us. Most experts will have us [finishing] last. So right now we would be happy with a third place. But last year was the same. We hope we can do the same again."
While Barcelona are under new management in the form of Gerardo Martino, and have strengthened with the addition of Neymar, Celtic's victory last year was no fluke and they will take heart from the Catalans' susceptability at set pieces. Lustig sees parallels between that outlook and Karagandy's during the play-off ties. He explained: "We knew every time they got a throw in or something they had the same feeling we did against Barcelona - this is a big chance to score goals. Maybe the only chance we are going to get."
Few in the camp, meanwhile, will relish the trip to Amsterdam more than Derk Boerrigter, who arrived in Glasgow keen to prove a point or two to his former club, and their manager Frank de Boer, the former Rangers player. "Ajax is a very good team, they always like to play football, but they don't play the same way as Celtic so it will be good to see who is best," Boerrigter said. "We have some great players who can make a difference so I would be confident. Everyone in Holland watches the Champions League, all the clubs, so I am sure they will be watching how Celtic get on."
So will the rest of the Continent. And that ought to include followers of Scotland's other clubs. For six matchdays at least, this country might not seem quite so much like a sleepy footballing backwater.