Over the years Celtic Park has played host to some of the most prolific goal scorers in Scottish football history; the likes of Larsson, Dalglish, McClair and McGrory having all etched their names into Celtic folklore thanks to their goal scoring exploits. However, since Larsson’s departure in 2004 Celtic have struggled to fill the void left by the legendary Swede. Strikers have come and gone, but few have gotten close to having a similar impact on the clubs. Until now that is, as young French striker Moussa Dembele looks set to make his mark on the club.
Arriving at Celtic in the summer from English Championship side Fulham as Brendan Rodgers first signing, Dembele’s acquisition was met with cautious optimism from the clubs supporters who, although aware of his talents, were desperately hoping that he would not turn out like other ‘project’ signings Teemu Pukki and Amido Balde; both of whom failed miserably during their short spells in Paradise amassing just 10 goals between them in 47 league appearances.
However, Dembele has quickly moved to allay any fears over his ability having already knocked in 17 goals in just 24 appearances so far this season. Moreover, his all round performances have been of such a high standard that there has already been speculation linking Dembele with a big money move away from the club.
Tottenham, Chelsea, and Liverpool were all credited with an interest in the young French striker during the summer with several outlets even reporting that Tottenham had a deal in place with Fulham to sign Dembele before inexplicably pulling out at the last minute. The North London club must be kicking themselves over that one.
Despite his move to Celtic, interest in Dembele is still high with Chelsea, Bayern Munich, both Manchester clubs and even Real Madrid reportedly monitoring his progress; The Express has even gone so far as to estimate that it may take up to £40 million to lure Dembele away from Parkhead. While that fee may be on the over generous side, it is clear that Dembele’s star is certainly on the rise.
Fortunately for Hoops fans it appears that neither club nor player are keen to part ways anytime soon with majority shareholder Dermot Desmond recently stating that Celtic are in no hurry to cash in on their young prodigy. The player himself has also gone on record in stating his desire to stay at Celtic Park for the foreseeable future.
“For me, I am here until the end of my contract and for many years. It is not something I think about. I don’t listen to those stories.”
Moussa Dembele, speaking to The Herald Scotland
WHO IS MOUSSA DEMBELE?
Strong, powerful, quick and with an eye for goal and the ability to bring others into play, Dembele has all the attributes associated with a top-class centre forward. He can also count French maestro and current Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane amongst his growing list of admirers.
“Dembele is an exciting player potentially for France, he has already shown what he is capable of. He is a very big singing for Celtic . I like to follow the progress of exciting, young, French players, and I know that Bayern, Monaco and Juventus were all looking at him – so it really is big that Celtic managed to sign him.”
Dembele began his career in the youth set-up at PSG before moving to Fulham’s Youth Academy at the age of 16 in 2012, and making the step up to first team football just one year later when he made his Premier League debut against West Ham during Fulham’s ultimately ill-fated 2013/14 campaign which saw the Cottagers relegated.
Relegation to the Championship brought the prospect of increased game time for the young Dembele who went on to score 17 goals across the following two seasons, including 15 last season, thus bringing him to the attention of several high profile clubs.
Despite interest from around Europe, Dembele chose Celtic Park as the place to continue his development citing game time, a desire to score goals and win trophies, and manager Brendan Rodgers as key influencers on his decision in an interview with CelticTV. There was also the added bonus of linking up once again with former Fulham teammate Patrick Roberts, currently on loan at Celtic from Manchester City.
Despite not scoring in his first three outings for Celtic, including both legs against Lincoln Red Imps, Dembele’s early performances in the Hoops were promising enough to suggest that he was already becoming a fans favourite. Although he had failed to hit the target himself, his link up play often assisted in creating chances for those around him and it appeared only a matter of time before that illusive first goal would come.
And so it duly arrived courtesy of a high pressure 92nd minute penalty against Astana in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying round; score and Celtic were through to the Play-Off round, miss and Celtic faced extra-time. To make matters more intense several Astana players were involved in a melee with the referee, delaying the penalty by two or three minutes. Dembele used this time to compose himself before despatching the spot kick with aplomb.
From that moment he has not looked back in a Celtic shirt.
A hat-trick soon followed against Rangers in the first league meeting between the two Glasgow clubs as have goals against Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League, proving that Dembele has what it takes to perform on the big stage. 17 goals in 24 appearances in all competitions certainly suggests that he has a keen eye for goal.
He is, however, still young and learning the game at the top level as evidenced by his poor penalty at the Nou Camp and glaring missed headed opportunity against Barca in the return game at Celtic Park where, from about 9 yards range he failed to direct a free header beyond Ter Stegen; to compound that miss, the away side doubled their lead less than 2 minutes later, ending Celtic’s spirited fight back. If Dembele is to make it at the highest level he needs to show a more ruthless edge in front of goal and start converting these half chances when they come his way.
INTERNATIONAL BRIGHT YOUNG THING
It’s not just at club level where Dembele has shown his promise, he has also shone for the French at all age group levels from U-16 through to U-21; recently stealing the show against England with a stunning brace for the U-21’s.
His talents have also caught the eye of the illustrious Italian publication Tuttosport where he was nominated for their highly prestigious Golden Boy award which celebrates the best U-21 talent in world football. And, in the last week, he was awarded the honour of best French U-21 player, beating the likes of Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial to the Trophee de L’Espoir Francais.
It is therefore clear to see that in Moussa Dembele Celtic have a true talent on their hands and one who may prove too difficult to keep in the long-term such is the level of interest he is attracting. However Celtic fans will be hoping that their young talisman heeds the words of Zinedine Zidane who has recommended that Dembele stay at Celtic for at least another two seasons in order to continue his development and fire the club on to continued success domestically and in Europe.