CELTIC have accepted an invitation from the English Premier League to take part in a prospective under-21 competition which would also include clubs from Germany, Spain, Portugal and Netherlands.
The new tournament, which will require approval from Uefa, is intended to start this season. Eight of England’s top-flight clubs would be joined by Celtic, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Schalke 04, Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal, Benfica, Porto and PSV Eindhoven.
The English contingent will be made up of the clubs who filled the top eight places in the Premier League’s domestic under-21 development league last season – apart from Liverpool, who have declined to take part. Their place will be taken by West Ham United, joining Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Fulham, Southampton, Sunderland and Leicester City.
The 16 teams would be split into four groups of four, playing each other on a round-robin basis, with a quarter-final for the top two in each group which would be played over two legs. Up to three over-age players would be allowed to take part.
Celtic’s development squad have already enjoyed elite level tournament football in the Uefa Youth League for under-19 teams which has been run in conjunction with the Champions League over the past two seasons.
The English Premier League are confident European football’s governing body will not regard their proposed competition as a rival, believing the difference in age group levels will allow both to run in harmony.
The EPL are also at pains to stress their idea is not a response to English FA chairman Greg Dyke’s controversial ambitions to introduce a B-league below League Two which would involve top-flight reserve teams with the intention of giving young English players more competitive match experience.
EPL communications director Dan Johnson said its proposal was unrelated to Dyke’s scheme.
“We do believe it would be good for the development of talented young players but it is not an answer to the B league proposal at all,” said Johnson. “It is something we have wanted to do for a number of years. We are keen to work with Uefa on what we think is a good development opportunity and there has been a lot of support from clubs on the continent.
“Our view is that an under-21 competition with a significant programme of international fixtures at lower age levels is a good opportunity to expose players to this level of competition.”