JOHN O’Neill was present when his Bournemouth team mate Eddie Howe suffered the first of the knee injuries which would bring his playing days to a premature end at the age of just 29.

Now the former Celtic striker is keen to witness his old buddy relaunch his managerial career at his beloved Parkhead club after a year out of football.

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Because he thinks the Englishman is the perfect individual to resurrect the on-field fortunes of the deposed Scottish champions after a bitterly disappointing season and will be quite undaunted by the magnitude of the challenge that awaits him in Glasgow.     

O’Neill lives in Texas now where he works in recruitment in the oil and gas industry – but he has been taking a close interest in what has been happening back in his home city from afar in recent days.

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The Queen of the South great has been intrigued to see Howe, who he played alongside at Dean Court for four seasons in the 1990s, headhunted by Celtic and is hopeful his appointment will be confirmed in the coming days.

“Eddie has had two successful spells at Bournemouth,” he said. “He has worked at the top level down south for years. He has gone and mixed it with major Premier League clubs and his team has more than held their own.

“Eddie has done well and is very sought after now. If Celtic do manage to get him then I think he will do a great job for them, I really do.

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“I am a huge Celtic fan. It has been exciting to see somebody I played with and know being linked with the manager’s job at the club I support. I hope he does take it.

“Eddie has been linked with the likes of Crystal Palace and Sheffield United. No disrespect to those clubs, but they don’t have the fan power or the prestige that Celtic do. They certainly don’t have European football.

“For somebody like Eddie it is a great opportunity. He could actually win some silverware. A lot of great managers have never won anything. He can come up here, really bring success to the club and be idolised.”

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O’Neill continued: “It hasn’t necessarily been a surprise to me that he has done so well as a manager because he was somebody I always felt had that side to him, even at a young age.

“He was just 100 per cent engrossed in the game. He was one of these guys who was totally dedicated to being the best that he possibly could. He was the ultimate professional.

“He was always the first in to training and the last to leave. He was constantly working on the aspects of his game that he thought he could improve.

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“He wasn’t particularly tall for a centre back, but he was very brave. He would put his head in where other players wouldn’t put their feet. He was two footed and was very comfortable playing out from the back.

“I fully expected him to go into management. He was very knowledgeable even when he was young. He was very studious in terms of his own preparation. He worked under some good coaches and he got on with everyone too.”

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O’Neill was sad for Howe when the defender was forced to hang up his boots before he even reached 30 - but he thinks that devastating blow has simply fuelled his desire to succeed as a manager.

“I was actually there the day that Eddie first injured his knee,” he said. “We had the day off, but Eddie and I went in to the gym. We were outside pinging 30 yard passes to one another.

“The next thing I know Eddie goes down to the ground clutching his knee. I thought he was kidding on. But I went to check on him and it became clear he was in some distress. I went and got the physio out. He had dislocated his kneecap.

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“Eddie being Eddie, he was back playing within four weeks or so. But that was the first sign that he would have problems. Unfortunately, he had to quit playing fairly young.

 “The injury definitely prevented him from having a better playing career. But that gave him an opportunity to move into coaching. He has been as determined to improve as a manager as he was as a player and has done well.”

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O’Neill, who spent two years at his boyhood heroes Celtic before moving to Bournemouth in 1996, has no concerns about Howe being overwhelmed by the demands to beat Rangers to the Scottish title or the pressure he will be under at Parkhead. 

“A lot is made of the Glasgow goldfish bowl,” he said. “Celtic are certainly a huge club. The manager’s job can consume someone if they aren’t used to being under that sort of scrutiny.

“But Eddie has gone and competed with the Chelseas, the Man Cities, the Man Uniteds, the Liverpools. He has been successful in that company at Bournemouth. He will look forward to coming up here. He won’t fear it.”

If Howe does take over at Celtic he will have a major rebuilding job on his hands; Scott Brown, Shane Duffy, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Diego Laxalt will all depart this summer and Kristoffer Ajer, Ryan Christie, Odsonne Edouard and Callum McGregor could move on too.    

However, O’Neill s confident that his old team mate will be able to utilise the extensive contacts which he has built up down south to bring in quality reinforcements.

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“As a Celtic fan you are looking for somebody to come in, really hit the ground running and try to get a stranglehold on the game up there,” he said. 

“Taking over a squad that is hurting a little bit will probably be a good thing. They will get that hunger back. There will be new faces coming in. I know Eddie will have his own ideas about how he wants his team to play and I am pretty sure the club will back him with signings.

“He has great contacts. He is very well respected amongst the Alex Fergusons, Arsene Wengers, Jose Mourinhos and Brendan Rodgers of this world. They have all got good things to say about him, all speak highly of him. The contacts he has will help him.”

 O’Neill’s own stint at Celtic wasn’t a particular success. He joined from Queen’s Park at a time of significant off-field unrest in 1994 just before Fergus McCann seized control. He worked under both Lou Macari and Tommy Burns and only made two first team appearances. But he loved every minute of his spell in Paradise. He has no doubts that Howe will too. 

“I have fond memories of my time at Celtic,” he said. “I grew up a Celtic fan and it was my dream to one day pull on the hoops. That is very much how I felt about it. I got a couple of games in the first team and was absolutely delighted with that. You realise the size of the club when you are there.

“I came on in the second-half of a game against Partick Thistle and not long after that damaged my ankle ligaments which kind of curtailed my future involvement. Tommy Burns was very open, very honest, with me. I had the chance to go to Bournemouth on loan and I took it. I don’t regret it for one minute. Being a Glasgow boy who was a Celtic fan, it was a dream come true.” 

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