With news emerging that Moussa Dembele is potentially on his way to Celtic, the last flickering hopes of the Frenchman staying at Fulham are being extinguished.
Dembele is one of the best young striking prospects in Europe, and given his expired contract and the minimal compensation required to sign him, he is certainly one of the most appealing. The surprise isn’t that he’s chosen to leave Fulham, but rather that his next port of call is potentially in Scotland.
Even the most rose tinted Scottish football fan will admit their league is hardly a bastion of competitiveness. The quality level is nestled somewhere between Premier League Relegation Zone and League Two. All signs pointed to Europe’s big boys being in for Moussa, so why would he choose Celtic?
What do 19 year old players need the most? Games. Regardless of how good you think Dembele can be, he isn’t there yet. His 17 goals in 46 games last season was very impressive, but 1 goal every 2.7 games in England’s second tier is not going to get you starting up front in the increasingly rich Premier League.
Danny Ings provides a cautionary tale. The frontman joined Liverpool on a free last summer off the back of an 11 goal season in the Premier League for Burnley in a relegation season as a 22 year old, having scored 21 in the Championship the season before. Ings started only 1 of a potential 8 Premier League games for Liverpool before a ruptured cruciate ligament ended his season in October.
Ability wise, Dembele is naturally talented and physically gifted, but he is still raw and lacks composure. Game time, experience and good coaching will turn him into a star. You’d rather be 19 with his physical talent and instincts which can be coached up rather than the other way round. His next team must be a place where he can be nurtured in a competitive environment.
Former Fulham player Patrick Roberts is a shining example of what Celtic can do for you. Following his move from Fulham to Manchester City last summer, Roberts was loaned to Celtic on an 18 month deal in January having played a mere 54 minutes of competitive football at City. After arriving at Celtic, the 19 year old made 11 appearances and scored 6 goals at the tail end of the season. Imagine that opportunity extrapolated over an entire season.
Ease of competition
Why get beaten up in the dog-eat-dog Championship when you can be in Scotland, playing for a side who will probably have the title sewn up by mid-march. His competition for minutes up front will be reigning SPL player of the year Leigh Griffiths, a striker who failed to cut the mustard in England, who scored 31 goals in 34 games last season.
For Dembele, who still has much to learn to hone his raw talent, SPL defences will provide the perfect cannon fodder. Much like Roberts, game time at Celtic will directly help Dembele in respect of developing his skill levels, something that the pace and physicality of the English game often doesn’t allow. Whilst there may be a ceiling on the development you can do in the SPL if you stay too long, a year there as a soon to be 20 year old has the potential to elevate Dembele to a level he couldn’t get to at the wrong end of the Championship.
Celtic are a big club, let’s not forget that. We’re not talking about him going off to play for Inverness or St Mirren. Playing at Parkhead in front of a packed house cannot be overlooked as a major incentive for Dembele and something that should add another string to his development. With Rangers re-joining the SPL there will be some big occasions this season. Celtic also offer Dembele the chance to make his Champions League debut. Players have moved to lesser clubs for less opportunity.
What all of the above adds up to is that a move to Celtic gives Moussa Dembele the opportunity to place himself ideally in the shop window, so that when he does next move on, it will be to a team he can start for every week. Coming from the SPL will mean his transfer fee won’t be onerously large either. Is moving to Scotland a risk? Of course, clubs can often be hesitant to sign players, especially strikers, from leagues which produce inflated goal tallies (e.g. Scotland or Holland). However, Dembele clearly believes in himself and sees his next move as an opportunity to take the stage.
Whilst it might seem underwhelming, and it certainly is annoying, moving to Celtic could serve Moussa well in the long term and gives a good indication that he may have sound advisors. Most players would go to whatever side had the most glamorous name or the highest paycheck. History is littered with the faltered careers of those players.
Good luck Moussa, we’ll be watching, cheering and getting more and more bitter that we don’t have a sell on clause.