By Brian P. Dunleavy
As Celtic’s Moussa Dembele slowly walked off the pitch in the 61st minute of Saturday’s match against Rangers at Celtic Park, Hoops supporters had to be wondering if this was the French striker’s long goodbye.
No one could blame them, either, if they were thinking it might be time for the promising young star and the Glasgow club to part ways—an idea many felt was unthinkable a scant four months ago. Dembele’s performance against the Ibrox side—or, more accurately, the lack thereof—was sadly emblematic of the Frenchman’s form this season: When healthy, he has too often appeared to be mailing it in.
Never mind that his effort (or, again, lack thereof) has still been good enough to yield eight goals in 21 appearances this season. That probably says more about the competition he faces in Scotland week in and week out (seven of those have come in domestic matches) than it does about his endeavor or “nose for the goal” this term.
If Dembele’s time in Glasgow comes to an end during the January transfer window, and it certainly seems that it will, he looks set to cash in—big time.
And, of course, so does Celtic.
Various reports have estimated Dembele’s worth on the market—whether the destination be PSG or Brighton & Hove Albion—at anywhere between £10 million and £40 million. All in all, not a bad haul on a £500,000 investment (in buying him from Fulham in summer 2016) in 18 months.
However, there are questions for everyone involved in the Dembele Drama. First and foremost, for the player, what does it say about the striker’s character that he appears willing to coast through matches for the club that helped position him for a big payday? For the club that signs him, should that apparent lack of effort be a red flag? Does a £10 million to £40 million investment make financial sense, given that the player has only found success, thus far anyway, at the English Championship and Scottish Premiership level?
And, most importantly (for us, and we assume for you dear readers), what will Celtic do with that £10 million to £40 million windfall? Will they use it to sign a game-changing type of player? James McClean, currently plying his trade for West Brom in England, has made no secret of his desire to move to the club he has supported his entire life, but will the yield for Dembele be enough for the Hoops to make such a transfer happen?
Will Brendan Rodgers bring in another striker to replace Dembele for Celtic’s Europa League ties in February and for the Champions’ League qualifiers this summer? If so, what kind of player can he sign—forgive us for citing these figures again—for £10 million to £40 million?
Remember, too, that Virgil van Dijk’s recent move to Liverpool factors in here as well. The Hoops signed the Dutch defender for £2.6 million in 2013, then sold him to Southampton in 2015 for £10 million. Now, they recoup a £6 million sell-on fee as part of his £75 million transfer to Anfield. Not a bad bit of business, obviously, but will Celtic merely add that money to its coffers, or reinvest it in players?
Because, here’s the thing: While we don’t take too much stock in that aforementioned match with Rangers, which ended in a 0-0, we do know one thing: The Ibrox side won’t stand still; thus, they won’t be mediocre forever. Given that, Celtic can’t take the Premiership, or European participation, for granted. They need to spend, and spend wisely.
In other words, they can’t coast—like Dembele.