WATCHING Manchester City decimate Real Madrid this week, John Kennedy was adamant Celtic should be inspired, not intimidated, by a return to the Champions League next season.

Pep Guardiola’s side put on a fearsome display in powering their way to next month’s Istanbul final against Inter, making abundantly clear to the rest of Europe that the bar may just be set higher than ever. Celtic cannot call upon the unlimited resources Abu-Dhabi’s ownership affords City, but assistant manager Kennedy believes there’s no reason to put a ceiling on their continental ambitions.

He’s not expecting to win the Champions League any time soon, but has noted that even Guardiola has required time to elevate his team of superstars to this point, given it is the one major trophy that still eludes a bulging Etihad trophy cabinet. In terms of that growth process, Kennedy sees parallels with how Postecoglou is continually raising standards at Celtic.

“We have earned the right to play in the Champions League and when that happens you want to test yourself against the best,” Kennedy said.

“They are a terrific team. From a coaching perspective they are very inspiring. I think everyone looking at them can see the level of performances they are putting in. But again, they have taken time to get to that level. They are playing in a different league to us at a different level. 

“But in terms of getting to that point, Pep Guardiola has had to spend time with that squad to get them to the point where they look a very special team. Certainly, Ange will do his own version of that here.

“They were sensational against Real Madrid. They have the resources there to bring in a higher level of players. But we have to try and maximise what we can do — and you can’t put a ceiling on that.

‘We have continually improved this season, in terms of last season, and we have made improvements again in terms of our league form and our consistency. We’ve made inroads in Europe.

“We’ve played at a very high level. We didn’t get the results but there were signs in our performances when we showed we can go for periods in games toe-to-toe with the big guys.

“We have to take belief from that but we have to work very hard to try and maximise what they can be. The manager is very good at getting everything out of the players and making them go 100 per cent every day and going into games with full focus to be the best version of themselves.

“That’s something he’s really good at driving home. He won’t let up on them. He won’t let them be comfortable. He will squeeze every last drop out of them if he can.”

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This week recalls European memories for Kennedy as the 20th anniversary of Celtic’s UEFA Cup final adventure in Seville arrives on Sunday. The former centre-back was an aspiring 19-year-old on the outskirts of Martin O’Neill’s squad back then, and still vividly remembers that night against Porto where they came within touching distance of glory.

“Seville was special,” Kennedy said. “I was a young player at the time and I was on the fringes of the group. There were some very good and experienced players and I remember round by round you could feel the momentum building and around the club you felt like it you were on the cusp of something special.

“Beating teams like Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool, it was a special year and it was great to be part of it and follow the guys and to see how these players operated at such a high level.

“We didn’t win the final but it was still a special moment in the club’s history. It was two very good teams. Celtic beat some great teams along the way. Porto were a very special team and they proved it the following year by winning the Champions League.

“Take away the result and the occasion in Seville, the number of fans we had there, the general atmosphere around the place, the good feeling, it’s something that still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

“I think anyone who experienced that and was part of that era will certainly look back on it with fond memories.

‘Yes [it whets the appetite for Europe next year], that’s part of being at this club. Every year you have to get into European competition, the Champions League as much as possible.

‘We experienced that this season which was great for our squad and for our players and everyone involved in the club. Next season we will experience it again. It’s special to be part of it. It’s great for the group and the club and the fans make it very special. It’s a huge part of what Celtic is all about.”

Postecoglou is just the latest Celtic manager with whom Kennedy will embark on another European adventure. From playing under O’Neill to being by the side of Ronny Deila, Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers, the 39-year-old has hoovered up so much knowledge over the years.

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“Everyone has their own idea about how they want things to be done and how they want their team to look,” he said. “Being at Celtic, they all play a similar style in terms of being attack-minded and more focused on going forward and being aggressive and dominating the game. 

“But when you sit down with them all what you realise is they are all very good people. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s not just about how you can set a team up. It’s about how you train them and how you deal with people. That’s what the best managers do and that’s something I have taken from them all.

“They all have different styles, very much so in terms of how they deal with people, but they all have an empathy, a way of speaking to people to get them on board. When you have 25-30 players coming from different parts of the world, different cultures, being able to captivate them and given them one common purpose and goal is special in itself.

“All of these guys have been able to do that and that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from them all.”