By Alex Stevens

Graeme Souness is convinced Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster would have stayed at Celtic if Rangers had not been relegated from the Scottish top flight.

The trio all left Parkhead to make big-money moves to Southampton during the four-year spell in which Rangers were outside of the Scottish Premiership.

Wanyama joined the Saints in 2013, Forster followed suit in 2014 and Van Dijk made it a hat-trick of switches from Celtic to Southampton in 2015.

But Souness believes if Rangers had been able to challenge their Old Firm rivals, the central midfielder, goalkeeper and centre-back would not have made moves down south.

Souness told Sky Sports News on Wednesday night that Scottish football will be a better place for having Rangers back in the Premiership from next season.

“No one can argue it’s not been bad for Scottish football for Rangers not to be in the Premier League,” the former Rangers manager and midfielder said. “If the shoe had been on the other foot, I am sure Rangers supporters would have celebrated Celtic having the same problems.

“But that’s the short-term outlook because Celtic, since Rangers went down, have not really had a challenge. There’s been a bit of a challenge from Aberdeen but it’s not been sustained.

“Van Dijk, Wanyama, Forster, three of Celtic’s better players, have gone. Do Celtic sell them if Rangers are still a challenge? No.

“That means the quality of football that Celtic fans are watching has diminished. Don’t take my word for it, take a look at the gates at Celtic Park since Rangers have not been in the big league.

“The profile of the Premier League in Scotland has been diminished, it’s not as interesting to people outside of Scotland as it was when Rangers were there.

“There’s not the same interest from television companies and other media outlets.

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“As much as people have enjoyed the demise of Rangers and the damage to Rangers, they are shooting themselves in the foot and if they are thinking any differently, they are kidding themselves on.”

Mark Warburton’s side confirmed their status as second-tier champions with a 1-0 win over Dumbarton on Tuesday night.

After four campaigns outside the top flight, Rangers will return from next term and look to make an immediate impact and stop Celtic claiming another Premiership title.

Meanwhile, Old Firm will meet in the Scottish Cup semi-finals a week on Sunday in only the second fixture between the sides since their last league clash in 2012.

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