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We’re in the midst of another transfer window and that, inevitably, means another round of clubs sniffing around Celtic forward Moussa Dembélé. The young French striker has courted the interest of Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion, with a number of other clubs pursuing his signature, too, if reports are to be believed.
While fans would undoubtedly be sad to see him go, it may be worth considering the pragmatic option of finally cutting this charade short and taking note of the alternative to clinging on to the young talent: perhaps Celtic should actually sell Dembéle while the going is good.
First and foremost, there’s no doubt that the young Celtic striker is performing way below the levels that we saw of him last season. Although he may have bagged a goal in the League Cup final, Dembélé hasn’t scored in his last five appearances for the club, and when we look at the numbers, they make it abundantly clear that he’s playing slightly below par at the moment.
The French forward made waves in Scotland last season after racking up an incredible 32 goals in 49 games, including a double in Celtic’s famous 3-3 draw with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Champions League.
However, this season he’s picked up just eight from 21 games, giving him a goals-per-game ratio of 0.38. Although that may not be too bad in isolation for any striker at any level, it pales in comparison to the 0.65 goals he was picking up in every game last season. Dembélé simply isn’t scoring as many goals as he once was.
In most circumstance that wouldn’t be a problem. Strikers, despite only being as good as the goals they score, tend to drift in and out of form and at most clubs that’s absolutely fine. Yet at Celtic Dembélé is under some serious competition and doesn’t enjoy the comfort of being able to swan through large parts of the season without bringing anything to the team.
Constantly breathing down the 21-year-old’s neck is, of course, Leigh Griffiths; the Scottish international who, despite clearly being a backup to Dembélé in his coach’s eyes, tends to waste little time picking up goals and assists whenever offered the opportunity. And this season has been no exception.
Griffiths started and scored in Celtic’s only win in the Champions League this season – a 3-0 victory away to Anderlecht – and has bagged ten goals to Dembele’s eight, plus an extra five assists. And even though last season was very much “The Dembélé Show”, the 27-year-old still managed to slot away 18 goals and 15 assists for the Scottish champions.
Indeed, Rodgers has done a reasonable job of swapping and switching between both players, often playing either one to their strengths in specific games. But there’s no denying that if Dembélé was to leave the club this month there would be very little concern over who would step up in the goalscoring department. Celtic already have a proven, distinguished talisman and he’d be more than happy to fill in for a departing colleague.
Of course, he’s not Celtic’s only backup striker. This season the club made the intriguing move to loan Paris Saint-Germain youngster Odsonne Edouard at the closing stages of the summer transfer window. And although the 19-year-old hasn’t had – or indeed been given the chance – to hit the ground running like his compatriot, he does look like a solid alternative if Celtic were to call upon him.
Edouard only played a bit-part role in Celtic’s Champions League campaign, but in the Scottish Premiership he’s managed to make the most of limited game time, providing pace, superb technical ability and an undoubted eye for goal.
He may not have scored in his four substitute appearances in the league, but in the six games he’s started he’s picked up four goals and two assists. It may still be early days but it would seem as though the young French striker is capable of scoring and causing all sorts of trouble for the Scottish champions if given the time to do so.
With that in mind, it was quite telling that this week we saw Rodgers openly admit that he was mulling over a bid for the on-loan talent. “I have been really impressed by him and he is getting better and better each week,” said the Celtic coach. “I will assess it at the end of the season.”
Part of Edouard’s deal permits an agreed fee, reported to be around £7million, that Celtic could activate at any point. Yet even just admitting that he and the club were considering it is enough to speculate on how things may play out this month, or, indeed, in the summer, for Rodgers’ team.
Rodgers has been quite adamant in the past that, due to the nature of his squad and the limits of Scottish football, having three top strikers simply wouldn’t work. So, with that in mind, does signing Edouard then mean the Celtic manager expects either Griffiths or Dembélé to be leaving shortly?
It’s rarely worth speculating on such things but, considering the manner in which things are playing out and Celtic’s fantastic record of getting optimum prices for their stars while their reputation is still rising, it most certainly can’t be ruled out. Celtic may choose to sell Dembélé this month and they’d almost certainly be absolutely fine to do so.