Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
# Potential
Too much too young: Celtic starlet Dembele must be treated right
He might be years away from playing for the senior side, but there’s already a weight of expectation on his young shoulders.

KARAMOKO DEMBELE MAY not be old enough to play the lottery, choose his own doctor or even have a part-time job, yet the Celtic youth player is already one of the most discussed players in Britain.

At just 13-years-old he has become a YouTube sensation for his dominant displays even against the likes of Barcelona and has played for his club’s Under-20 Development side, not to mention Scotland’s Under-16s.

Dembele was born in London but moved to the Govan area of Glasgow when he was five, making him eligible for either country. Ivory Coast can also stake a claim for his future, as that is the nation of his parents.

The winger is a child who is a prized commodity and already subject to an unseemly international tug of war between the Scottish and English FAs, both of whom are eager for the barely teenaged sensation to commit his future to their national team.

“We will try and do everything we possibly can to bring him into the Scottish system,” Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive said at the launch of Glasgow’s Euro 2020 logo. “That’s something we definitely have on our radar. We’ve called Karamoko into the Victory Shield squad.

“If you have talented players and talented players who are eligible for other countries then, clearly, they are always going to be attractive to other associations. We have to do what we can – and that is why he has been called into the Victory Shield squad.

“The attention to detail and attention he is getting as a young player is great – and being brought into the Scotland set-up at a young age, at 13 years old, is a fantastic opportunity.

“We can only do everything we possibly can in our power. Ultimately the choice will come down to the boy and his parents. But we will do all we actually can to make him a Scotland player.”

His counterparts in England, meanwhile, have moved more discreetly to offer Dembele the opportunity to train with England’s U15 side at St George’s.

The hype that has been built around the player is arguably the greatest around any youngster since the emergence of Freddy Adu. Dembele must seek to avoid following in the footsteps of the American, who turned professional at 14 debuted for the national team at 16 and was effectively washed up on loan at Aris Thessaloniki by the time he was 22.

Celtic are eager not to push their young gem too hard, insistent that his development will continue at a “measured pace”. Nevertheless, there are those inside the game in Scotland who insist that his use for the club’s U20s was little more than a publicity stunt to attract attention to his talents, despite the team being depleted by international commitments at the time.

It is also worth pointing out that Dembele’s appearance at that level is by no means unique: 13-year-olds have played previously at U20 level and players are often blooded young.

Fortunes can change quickly for young players, but Celtic are confident that they have a gem in Dembele, who is universally described as being “down to earth”.

Chris McCart, the Bhoys’ head of youth, told the club’s website: “Karamoko is still a young boy and has a lot of growing to do, both physically and mentally. The coaches at our U13 and 14 levels have been fantastic in nurturing his potential but it is crucial that we do not push him too far, too soon.

McCart deserves credit with the partnership forged with St Ninian’s High School in Kirkintilloch, which has been ongoing for around six years. It is here, a matter of miles from the club’s training ground at Lennoxtown, that the young Dembele is educated. The set-up has already had its success stories, the most notable of which is Kieran Tierney, the regular left-back for the Parkhead club who is being followed by the likes of Arsenal.

There have been spinoffs for Celtic’s youth system due to the Dembele hype. His sheer presence in their side has brought scouts flocking from all over Europe – Barcelona even admitted that they considered signing him – and as a result that has made their academy a more marketable brand. Parents have moved children to Dembele’s side, with the decisive factor the knowledge that there is a greater likelihood of them catching the eye of English clubs in particular.

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Scotland is being increasingly seen as a worthwhile scouting target for Premier League outfits. The standard is continually rising as teams are picking players up younger and Dembele is simply the most high-profile example of this; several of his team-mates are also highly regarded.

And should Dembele need warned about the dangers of going too far too soon, he does not have far to look. When Somalia-born Islam Feruz, a wonderkid of similar repute to the young winger, controversially turned his back on the club in 2011 to move to Chelsea, he did so amid cries that it was the wrong move.

Now 21, his progress has stalled. He has only a couple of Scotland U21 appearances to his credit and is currently nailed to the bench with Belgian outfit Mouscron on loan from the Blues.

Arguably an even starker warning comes from the experience of Michael McGlinchey, who at aged 15 was regarded as one of Britain’s brightest teenage talents. Reports suggested he had knocked back Manchester United to join Celtic but though he became the youngest player to turn out for the Hoops in a friendly against Wycombe, he would make only one senior appearance before rapidly disappearing into the relative obscurity of the A-League. He did flicker briefly into the public consciousness in 2010, when he was named in New Zealand’s World Cup squad, but he did not play.

“From my experience it’s hard to maintain the hype,” he conceded.

Dembele now faces the same challenge at an even younger age, and media scrutiny will become part of his daily life. Others have shown the graduating from child prodigy to superstar is a route fraught with difficulties, and there is a long way to go if the 13-year-old is not just to be remembered for his clips on YouTube.

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