The final few days of the summer transfer window weren’t supposed to go this way for Celtic. With the pressure on the Hoops to strengthen, this week should have been a Supermarket Sweep dash through the aisles of the European football market. Yousouff Mulumbu and Filip Benkovic have been grabbed, with both deals expected to be done by Friday’s deadline, but this late rush has now become keeping players rather than bringing more in.
Moussa Dembele changed the narrative. Until this week, it was assumed that the French striker would remain a Celtic player for another season, with fleeting interest from potential suitors never really amounting to a concrete offer. But then Lyon made a series of offers for Dembele, publicly expressing their desire to sign the France U21 international.
— Moussa Dembélé (@MDembele_10) August 30, 2018
From this, the drama truly began, with Dembele first missing training on Wednesday. The 22-year-old was also missing from Celtic’s matchday squad for the Europa League qualifier against Suduva on Thursday night. And yet Brendan Rodgers still insisted that the striker wouldn’t be sold. “We don’t want him to go,” he said. “We understand that offer is significant but it has to work for both sides and at Celtic we need to have someone of a certain quality to come in then unfortunately it can’t be done because he is not a player we want to lose.”
This prompted Dembele to post a cryptic Twitter message (above), essentially calling out Rodgers and Celtic for not keeping their word (whatever that was). Unless Lyon return with an improved offer, it seems that Celtic will be left with another star player unhappy at not being allowed to leave the club. They already have the Dedryck Boyata situation to extinguish.
From the perspective of the Celtic support, Dembele staying is undoubtedly good news. The Frenchman is their best player on his day and losing him at this stage of the window, with nobody ready to come in as a direct replacement, would have left the Hoops significantly weaker just at the time they are looking to assert their dominance at the top of the Scottish game under renewed pressure from Rangers.
But from Celtic’s point of view, keeping Dembele in these circumstances is a mistake. This is a player they picked up as a free agent two years ago. Lyon’s reported £18 million bid would have handed Celtic their biggest ever profit on a player – more than the profit made on Virgil Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster. That kind of money would have filled the financial hole left by Celtic’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Of course, this sort of thing means little to fans, particularly at Celtic right now when the club has been pilloried for not spending enough in the transfer market. But even from a sporting perspective, Dembele has struggled with injuries of late. Last season was a frustrating one for him as he toiled for fitness.
Celtic, for the most part, coped just fine without him. They have Leigh Griffiths (below), a proven goalscorer at Scottish Premiership level, and Odsonne Edouard, another promising young French striker signed from Paris Saint-Germain on loan last summer and on a permanent deal this summer. Rodgers’ system only really has space for one central striker, but with Dembele still at the club, he has three vying for the one spot.
There’s also timing to consider. Dembele’s lofty valuation is set by what he has done in the Champions League. But Celtic aren’t in the Champions League this season. His price is unlikely to rise much further with only Europa League and Scottish Premiership football to play. Dembele won’t have the showcase that he’s had in the past two seasons.
If Celtic aren’t willing to sell Dembele now, what is their business model as a football club? The Hoops pitch themselves as a stepping stone to prospective signings, pointing at how the likes of Van Dijk and Wanyama have gone on to become superstars on the back of moves to Celtic. That pitch gets weaker if Dembele is denied his move. Celtic should have sold him.