With the SPFL title race being a tighter contest than expected earlier in the year, Celtic fans were unsure whether they would get their first glimpse of Karamoko Dembele before the end of the season. But having won the title with a couple of games to spare, Neil Lennon decided to give the young talent his first experience in a competitive match on the last day of the season. Since Karamoko Dembele appeared in the public media, much anticipation has surrounded the point and time that he would be able to showcase his skill against professional footballers.
With his debut being one filled with individual enthusiasm and fearlessness, Karamoko has let every attacker in the Celtic first team know that he is coming for their place. Although trophies are coming in at Celtic, fans are still unsatisfied with their side’s performances. With trebles coming at the cost of zero European progress, it is apparent that a change in the players, coaches and possibly more are needed. That does not necessarily mean that Celtic must spend millions, after all, Karamoko Dembele may be the gem they have been looking for.
Karamoko Dembele was struck with fame when he was just 13 years old. Video footage of the teenager playing against opponents that were far older than him sent the online football community into a tailspin. Playing in a U-20’s match at such a young age didn’t intimidate Dembele, as it was his ability on the ball that struck fear into everyone else.
Of course, this got fans exploring the inevitable circumstance of when he would eventually be playing against experienced players. Because of the excitement of his eventual debut, it made the waiting for Karamoko to turn 16 feel even longer. All football enthusiasts could do was sit and watch the latest videos of his most recent performances for the academy.
On 24 December 2018 both Dembele and the Celtic fans were given great encouragement when the club offered their academy player a pro-contract. Unfortunately, Karamoko was still ineligible to play for the first team due to the fact he was still only 15 years old, however, the action from the club was enough to show that Celtic intended on making Dembele a part of their future. Celtic fans were given reassurance that the rising star was still on track to become an integral member of the first team.
Since signing his contract, Karamoko Dembele had been improving every week with the reserve side. Competing with the best young players in Scotland certainly showed that Karamoko was mature enough to go up a gear. The last hurdle for Dembele was jumped when he turned 16 in February. He was now eligible to play in a professional football match.
Even after turning 16 it was looking unlikely that viewers would get to see the young man in action due to the fierce competition Celtic were facing in the league. The chance for Dembele to showcase his ability before the end of the season all depended on how quickly Celtic could wrap-up the title.
Better late than never. Neil Lennon had to complete say as to whether Dembele would take to the field before the end of the season. Winning the league with only two games to spare didn’t leave much time for Karamoko to make his debut. Knowing he wouldn’t play against Rangers, Karamoko’s last chance was against Hearts on the final day of the season.
Knowing how determined Dembele was to make his debut, Neil Lennon decided to have Karamoko on the bench against Hearts. A matchup that was tamed down due to Hearts gameplan to park the bus, was crying out for a creative player to drive at the opposing defence.
At half-time, Karamoko Dembele was subbed onto the pitch as he replaced Oliver Burke. The Celtic Ultras let out a giant roar so that their number 77 knew that this was his chance. The big moment had finally arrived, and all eyes were on the highly anticipated youngster.
Within minutes it was clear that this lad was special. A boy half the size of everyone else on the pitch was so fearless in his desire to score. Not one bad pass. Not one bad ball. Every time Dembele touched the ball, it seemed as though a goalscoring chance was just one move away. His talent met everybody’s expectations. And with 45 minutes played all season, Karamoko grabbed himself an SPFL winners medal and celebrated lifting the trophy with his teammates.
Rightly so, the Celtic supporters are asking how much he will get to play next season. After making an impact like that in front of 60,000 fans, Dembele will be expecting more minutes on the pitch. We have seen players at Celtic like Mikey Johnston who has had a slower progression into the first team. Playing in every fifth or sixth game, trying to leave his mark on the match. Then there are others like Kieran Tierney who managed to slot themselves into the starting 11 almost instantly.
There will still be those that feel Karamoko Dembele may still not be mature enough to start playing week-in-week-out. The fear that surrounded Dembele’s first appearance in a professional match was the possibility that he would be a boy in a man’s game. And of course, 45 minutes is not sufficient enough to suggest that Karamoko has no more preparation needed before becoming a regular. It must also be considered that if anyone can dive straight into the professional football scene at a young age…Karamoko Dembele is as perfect as a candidate as you’ll find.
If Karamoko was given the opportunity to play a good amount of games next season, what can we expect his influence on the team to be? As highlighted earlier, Celtic are in desperate need to progress further in Europe. Karamoko won’t just have his eyes on the SPFL, he’ll be eager to make his claim in the Champions League. We will only be able to put his talent into context when he is faced against the best in the world.
What is abundantly clear is his mental strength. The hope for Celtic fans is that his ambition will radiate across the rest of the squad. Low expectations have been extremely damaging to Celtic in Europe, and one way to make improvements is to bring in players with higher expectations of themselves.
It is not just himself that has these expectations. Because of the long wait and increased hype of Dembele’s arrival, everyone that has watched footage of him play has also set high expectations of him. That is a lot of pressure for such a young man. But if he is able to meet people’s expectations of him, then Celtic must also meet people’s expectations by holding onto him.
Celtic have in the past jumped at the first offer they receive for their star players. Causing much frustration to the fanbase as their best players have been completely undervalued. Celtic must recognise that they may have struck gold in Karamoko Dembele and cannot afford to let him go before he has a chance to leave his mark.
It must also be noticed that Dembele could have played for any academy in the world. His loyalty cannot go unrecognised as it is likely that he has a vision of success at Celtic.