In all the tens of thousands of words which will be written about the Champions League campaign that starts in Milan this midweek there will not be too many mentions of the £20m-or-so windfall they are guaranteed for reaching the group. That was last month's story. If you had asked two questions around the time of the Shakhter Karagandy games - how many millions were up for grabs and where will this season's final be played - the majority would have been able to answer only the former.
But the millions which will pour into Parkhead are now no more than a comforting afterthought. It's football time, it's about the players and the management now, and if that comes with an intoxicating sense of excitement then it is also accompanied by fear. With the exception of Walter Smith's Rangers teams in the mid-1990s - talented but seemingly paralysed against even the likes of Grasshopper and Auxerre - every Scottish campaign in the Champions League group stage has been competitive and respectable. Rangers reached the last 16 in 2006 and Celtic have done so in 2007, 2008 and last season. They have evolved into an experienced and familiar part of the landscape.
But Celtic, as with Rangers before them, must always start a campaign looking in trepidation at that big fat zero in the points total. A schedule which begins with AC Milan away and Barcelona at home amounts to a sequence to get the juices flowing and simultaneously send a shiver up the spine. On the four occasions in which one of the Old Firm has reached the last 16, they had amassed either three or four points by the end of matchday two. If Celtic manage that from their opening pair of games this time it will be remarkable. They then face a double-header with Ajax before Milan come to Glasgow - a game the Italians are unlikely to relish - before matchday six in Barcelona, where the group favourites may be comparatively vulnerable if they have already won the section and decide to play a weakened side.
Don't be in any doubt that Lennon has thought through all the possible permutations between now and the last game in December. You do not need to be a mind-reader to detect the impact the Champions League has on the Celtic manager. He is visibly energised and stimulated by every aspect of this great football tournament, from the qualifiers right through to the last 16. It is as if a light goes on in him when he's being tested at this level. His job satisfaction is at its absolute highest when he's being asked questions by the tactics and the individual brilliance of the elite European teams. This is the side of Lennon which is not recognised enough: the enthusiast and student who borders on being a coaching anorak.
Some will see it as a step backwards if Celtic do not qualify for the last 16 this season having done so last time, a level of expectation which takes no account of the loss of three influential players or the reality that a group with Barcelona, Milan and Ajax is stronger than one with Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. More realistic for Celtic is a contest with the Dutch champions to finish third and parachute into the Europa League. If they perform to Uefa's expectation Celtic would finish bottom as fourth seeds.
The threat of being outclassed and embarrassed is a constant companion in the Champions League and Lennon's first priority must be to again make his team competitive and at ease. His stock soared on the back of defeating Barcelona and reaching the last 16. The task now is to protect those achievements by ensuring the rest of Europe does not dismiss them as a single-season novelty.
And Another Thing . . .
A strange episode in Skopje last midweek. In the opening minutes of the Macedonia-Scotland game there was some general jeering when Scotland were in possession which rose in volume when Ikechi Anya had the ball. Some of us noticed it, some did not. Curiously the booing did not last and soon it was gone altogether, despite Anya quickly becoming prominent in the game. When he scored, there were Macedonians in the main stand applauding him for the finish.
A couple of days later the FARE reported "racist" behaviour to Fifa. The anti-racism group was surprisingly sure of itself. "FARE has passed on to Fifa details of racism," said its statement. Something jarred about that level of certainty in those words, especially since there were plenty who never picked up on it at all while others noted that his white team-mates were booed too.
Anya is one of us. He will deserve vigorous protection and support if he is ever abused because of the colour of his skin. But the evidence is far too flimsy for Macedonia to be convicted this time.
And Finally . . .
It's a sign of the dislocation between many modern players and the people that pay their wages, the supporters, that Ian Black has not felt the need to give Rangers fans the slightest explanation or apology for heaping yet more embarrassment on their club by gormlessly putting on all those bets. From the club's tolerance of his unprofessionalism, to the SFA-appointed independent panel's meaningless "punishment" of it, to the total absence of public contrition on his part, the whole episode has been pathetic from start to finish.