Wonderkids

How Celtic can maximise Karamoko Dembélé's potential

 • by Sam McGuire
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Sometimes, all it takes is a glimpse. After that, you just know.

Karamoko Dembélé has been tipped for big things since the age of 13 when he made his debut for Celtic’s under-20 development team in October 2016. Fans had to wait until the final day of the 2018/19 season for the youngster to make his debut for the first-team, but it was worth the wait.

He was given 45 minutes against Hearts on Sunday and he showed flashes of why he’s so highly rated. And why, despite burning so brightly for the underage groups, his star is one that won’t burn out quickly.

The 16-year-old had moments.

But the best one was when he picked the ball up on the halfway line, beat his opponent and looked to race clear. He was cynically scythed down. But as quickly as he fell to the floor he was up again. His run continued and he eventually got a shot off. It failed to hit the target but that wasn’t what mattered.

With that one quick dart, Dembélé showed what he was all about. Fouling won’t stop him. And that is when you know you’re in trouble as a defender.

It was the glimpse of his talent fans needed to see at first-team level.

Just as the opposition are falling over themselves to stop him, clubs will be falling over themselves to sign the talented teen. He’s already been in the middle of a tug-of-war between Scotland and England.

He turned out for the Scotland Under-16 side before switching allegiances to England. He’s since represented the Under-15 and the Under-17 side. He’s also eligible to represent the Ivory Coast.

Celtic have a genuine wonderkid on their hands. Both the club and the player need to manage the next few years properly to ensure Dembélé fulfils his potential and the Scottish Premiership champions are compensated for helping nurture such a talent.

Firstly, as soon as the versatile forward turns 17, in February, he needs to be handed a new long-term deal at Parkhead. His current one lasts until 2021. Neil Lennon, or whoever takes over the reins, needs to use the 2019/20 campaign to bed him into the first-team on a more permanent basis.

The plan should be that Dembélé is sold on the idea of taking over Scott Sinclair as the team’s main man in a wide area, despite playing on the opposite flank to the former Chelsea man. Show the teenager that if he stays he’ll be a key member of the squad in no time. Something he wouldn’t be afforded if he moved down south at such a young age.

Celtic have an advantage over other teams who may be interested in acquiring his services. They can offer him first-team football. They can offer him European experience. They can offer him the chance to win silverware. He knows he can hone his craft at Parkhead to an adoring crowd. It’s the perfect environment for him to flourish.

While it may seem like a naive move to build an attack around a player always destined to move on, giving Dembélé an increased responsibility going forward gives the Bhoys an x-factor in attack they otherwise wouldn’t have. Without heaping extra pressure on him, his unpredictable, confident style gives Celtic something different in Europe.

He’s the sort of player even the world’s best defenders hate coming up against. Direct, skilful and aggressive, he makes things happen.

The Bhoys have failed to make an impact in Europe over recent years but Dembélé could be the game-changer in that sense.

Of course, patience is required. But these plans need to be in place now. Manage him carefully and he could be the first Celtic player to leave for north of £30million.

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