Martin O'Neill: Strong Rangers would help Celtic in Europe

Martin O'Neill next to Scott Brown
Martin O'Neill was back at Celtic Park on Sunday as Scott Brown celebrated 11 years at the club

Ex-Celtic manager Martin O'Neill says his old club "needs a strong Rangers" if they are to compete in Europe.

Republic of Ireland boss O'Neill, 66, was speaking on his return to Celtic Park for club captain Scott Brown's testimonial match.

Celtic completed successive Trebles by winning Saturday's Scottish Cup final.

"If Rangers are going to get stronger, and that seems like it might be on the cards, that can only be good," said O'Neill, who won one Treble at Celtic.

"Rangers getting stronger will only benefit this football club to try and get stronger in Europe.

"It would be good for the league and remarkably for this club too."

Rangers, who have finished third in the Premiership for the past two seasons, have appointed former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard as their new manager, the 37-year-old taking over next month.

Brendan Rodgers' Celtic were unbeaten domestically in 2016-17 as they beat Aberdeen to all three domestic competitions.

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A strong Rangers can only benefit Celtic - Martin O'Neill

And though Rodgers' side lost four times on league duty this season, they finished nine points clear of the Dons in the Premiership and beat Motherwell in both the League Cup and Scottish Cup finals.

'Four rounds for Champions League qualification, that's tough'

O'Neill doesn't believe Celtic "will rest on their laurels" domestically, and said: "If competition gets stronger I think Celtic will rise to it.

"If Rangers are in a position to delve into transfer market and get some decent players, then that will just be a little reminder to Celtic and one I think they'd welcome."

Under Rodgers, Celtic have twice competed in the Champions League group stage and this season finished third in their group to progress to the first Europa League knockout round.

Republic of Ireland and Celtic players
Celtic and Republic of Ireland drew 2-2 in Brown's testimonial match

Monday will mark 15 years to the day since O'Neill's Celtic faced Porto in the 2003 Uefa Cup final in Seville, and the Northern Irishman believes hitting those heights can be achieved again by a Scottish club, though he concedes the new Champions League format "makes qualification difficult".

"Four rounds for qualification now, that's tough," O'Neill said as he confessed those early qualifying rounds always troubled him.

"Those were the games that used to worry me. Games that you thought you'd have won in October/November against the opposition, but it's the beginning of the season, it's always a difficulty."

While full of praise for Northern Irish compatriot Rodgers and his "excellent" double Treble, O'Neill believes the current Celtic boss will now want to achieve more in Europe.

"That will be Brendan's ambition," O'Neill added. "He's dominating domestic football here, they're very, very strong and I think now the next step is to try and achieve that.

"I don't think it's impossible, I think qualification is difficult but to make the second stages of the Champions League would be terrific. But you're talking about seeded sides, you're talking about real quality opposition as second seeds as well.

"But it wasn't that much different in my day when we had the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and Juventus here; it's great, it's exciting."

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