A few eyebrows were raised when Moussa Dembele chose to make Celtic the next destination in his promising career. The France under-20 international had reported interest from a wide range of top clubs, including Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
However, Dembele’s decision to become Brendan Rodgers’ first signing shows an intelligent approach to his career development by the former Fulham star.
While a move to one of Europe’s biggest leagues may have brought more money, it is unlikely that Dembele would have been a regular starter for any of the clubs he was linked with in those leagues. At 19-years-old, competitive game time is absolutely essential for the talented striker’s development.
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The nature of the game time is also an important consideration for a player at that stage of his career. The argument is often made that playing against the consistent quality of the English Premier League would provide a much sterner test for a developing player.
However, 20 minutes at the end of games that are already won, or the occasional start against weaker opposition, does nothing to prepare a young player for the pressure of top-level football for a team competing for trophies. At Celtic Park, Dembele can expect to gain experience of the pressure of Cup finals, league run-ins and top level European football.
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Celtic are often dismissed as a destination for top talent by fans from south of the border, mainly as a result of the perceived lack of quality and competition in the Scottish top division. This is an extremely blinkered view though, and one which fails to recognise many of the massive selling points of the Scottish champions.
There are few clubs in the world who regularly pull in 60,000 fans, but this is something that Celtic are very capable of. Following the unveiling of Brendan Rodgers as manager, the signs are that Celtic Park could be seeing a similar attendance level on a regular basis again next season. For a young player, there are few more testing environments to hone your skills than in front of a large and passionate crowd.
Furthermore, for any player with the ambition of going to the very top of football, it is important to get used to the pressure of winning every week. Dembele could easily have gone to a mid-table English Premier League team, where defeats are easily shrugged off and poor performances quickly cast aside.
At a club like Celtic though, the pressure is relentless. The quality of opposition in the domestic league may be lower, but Dembele will quickly learn that there is no place for easing up on performances against supposed weaker opponents.
This constant and unwavering requirement to win is present at the true giants of European football, and the goldfish bowl of Glasgow is one of the few places where emerging talents can experience that all-encompassing pressure while they are still not the finished article themselves. After a couple of seasons at Celtic Park, Dembele will be prepared for the off-field side of playing for a globally massive club in a way that very few other teams could offer.
As for the on-field experience, it would be extremely naive to consider the move to Celtic as an easy option. Brendan Rodgers will be fully expected to make the group stages of the Champions League, and that brings with it a minimum of six games against the cream of European football, in addition to the incredible tension of the season-defining qualifiers.
Add four high profile and high pressure games against newly promoted Rangers into the mix, along with extremely challenging trips to face a much improved Aberdeen and rapidly developing Hearts, and it is easy to see how Dembele will gain more big game exposure as a first team player for Celtic than he would as a backup striker in a more challenging league.
As for Celtic, they are getting an incredibly talented young player for a bargain fee. Dembele will be hungry to prove himself, and desperate to continue the upward trajectory of his short career. The Hoops have already been successful with signing young players like Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk, before selling them on for a huge profit to the cash-rich EPL - Dembele could be the next player to join this list.
Celtic can no longer compete with the top clubs in Europe in terms of salary. What that means is that when they do attract players coveted by these teams, they can be confident that their targets are signing for the right reasons.
If Dembele was focused on money, he would be elsewhere. The fact that he has committed to spending the next four years of his career in Glasgow is a testament to the fact that he is hungry to play football and develop as a player.
Six months ago, Dembele was on the verge of signing for Tottenham as back-up to Harry Kane. The fact that deal fell through could turn out to be perfect for both Moussa Dembele and Celtic.
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