CELTIC have agreed to form a partnership with KV Oostende which will see up to three of the Scottish champions' reserve and youth team players loaned out to the Belgian second division side each season.
The agreement is similar to the one which has been in place for several years between Manchester United and Royal Antwerp and, more recently, between Blackburn Rovers and Cercle Bruges.
John Park, the former Hibs youth coach who is now Celtic's football development manager, brokered the new arrangement with Oostende who have already secured their first loan signing from the Parkhead club. Diarmuid O'Carroll, the 20-year-old Republic of Ireland youth international forward who spent part of last season on loan at Ross County, has joined Oostende for the rest of this season.
O'Carroll will be joined by two of his Celtic reserve team-mates in due course. In addition to giving some of their players regular first team experience at a reasonable level of football, Celtic will also share scouting resources with Oostende.
That type of agreement was, until recently, in place between Arsenal and Beveren which saw players such as Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue sign and play first of all for the Belgian club before making successful moves to Arsene Wenger's first team. The Arsenal-Beveren partnership was subjected to a FIFA probe with the London club cleared of any breach of ownership regulations.
"This deal with Celtic will be a win-win situation for both clubs," said Oostende chairman Yves Lejaeghere. "Celtic received a similar proposal from a first division club in Belgium, but they rejected it as the club plays in a city they don't know. Ostend is well known in Scotland and the fact it has an airport and ferry port are extra advantages.
"Celtic want their youngsters to be in good hands when they go out on loan and also want it to be easy to follow their progress. We got in contact with John Park at Celtic and our proposal left him with no doubts. We will be able to take three young Celtic players every season with the guarantee that they play in the first team here every week. That will help them mature.
"We also reached an agreement that we will get a percentage of the transfer fee if Celtic go on to sell any of their players who have spent time with us. We will also be integrated into Celtic's scouting system. The Belgian football agents Gerd van Eetveld and Eric Tetart have good relationships with Celtic and it was they who broke the ice for us."
Among the Manchester United players who have benefitted from the Old Trafford club's long standing link with Royal Antwerp are Republic of Ireland international defender and John O'Shea and winger Lee Martin.
Oostende have spent most of their 103 year existence in the second tier of Belgian football but have reached the first division on several occasions, most recently in 2004 before being immediately relegated the following season.