Martin O’Neill added his backing on Wednesday to plans for Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers to play in the English Premier League.
Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has put forward proposals which would see the Premier League create a second division, including the ‘Old Firm’
Aston Villa manager O’Neill, who won three Scottish titles and three Scottish FA Cups while in charge of Celtic from 2000 to 2005, believes such a move would be mutually beneficial to both of the Glasgow clubs and the EPL.
“My personal thought is that Celtic and Rangers would enhance the Barclays Premier League,” he told Aston Villa TV, the club’s own television station.
“Glasgow is a phenomenal football city. Celtic house 60,000 fans and Rangers house 50,000 fans every game. I’m not sure about Rangers but I know Celtic’s capacity could go from 60,000 to 80,000 overnight, without a doubt.
“When I was manager of Celtic a number of years ago, there was some talk of both teams joining the Premier League in some capacity.
“There was mention of them being put in the Championship too, or maybe even lower down than that, and then making them work their way up through promotion.
“If forced to do that they would eventually get to the top and end up as monumental players in the Premier League.
“Of course, the sceptics would say ‘Why do it?’ But I’m talking about enhancement.”
However, moves for Celtic and Rangers to play their domestic football south of the border are likely to face strong opposition, not least from within the Scottish game.
The presence of the Old Firm is the major financial drawcard when it comes to negotiations for the rights to televise the Scottish Premier League.
And home matches against Celtic and Rangers are usually the biggest money-spinners for their top-flight rivals because of the size of the two clubs’ travelling support.
Meanwhile officials at the Scottish Football Association, who are vehemently opposed to a combined UK team at the 2012 London Olympics, would likely do all they could to oppose another move which they believed threatened their status as an independent football nation.
O’Neill added admitting the Old Firm to English football could set an awkward European precedent.
“I suppose Belgian teams could then ask to join the Dutch league and Dutch teams could then request to join the Bundesliga. All of those points would have to be considered.
“But, if you’re asking for a personal opinion, I think Celtic and Rangers joining would enhance the Barclays Premier League and make us all strive to get better. That’s my view.
“There are processes that would to have observed obviously. It was spoken about a few seasons ago and obstacles were put in the way.
“The idea died at that time and I don’t know how strong the possibility is at the moment. I certainly support the idea. But, then again, I could be a voice in the wilderness.”
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