Celtic interim boss Neil Lennon has denied the idea of Karamoko Dembele starting at Hampden next week.
The Celtic youngster made a telling impact against Hearts yesterday on trophy day. With Celtic faltering against Hearts and the score tied at 1-1, 16-year-old Dembele came on and made a tremendous difference. He may not have scored or assisted, but his increased energy and tricky footwork lifted the tempo.
And that has naturally opened up the idea of whether he could make a shock appearance against the Jambos this weekend in the Scottish Cup final. Dembele made such an impression that it would be intriguing to see how he would do in a game such as that.
But Lennon isn’t interested in entertaining that idea. In a sensible move by the interim manager, he told the Scotsman that he more or less won’t start on Saturday.
“Karamoko is a little bit different (to other youth talents). He has been training with us – but has obviously not got any first-team experience until now.
“I would doubt he would be in contention for a starting place next week – put it that way!”
It was never going to happen
Dembele is an incredibly exciting talent. But he has a lot of growing to do before he’s ready for any big-game appearances. Dembele has only been in the reserves since February – the same month in which he only turned 16-years of age.
So it’s only appropriate that Celtic take their time with him. He’s signed a three-year contract, and that gives us plenty of security over the next couple of years. With a bit of luck, the Hoops will be able to tie him down further after that period ends too.
But Celtic surely won’t want to give him too much too soon. Keeping Dembele’s feet on the ground is a priority at this stage. The Scottish Cup final, meanwhile, should be an occasion for the players who have earned it over the course of a full season.
Hearts at Hampden on Saturday is perhaps the biggest game in a long time for Celtic. Taking a risk on young Dembele was never going to be in the pipeline.
All we can hope for is further glances of him next season. He managed the physicality of the game well, but he still has some bulking up to do. Lennon clearly understands that too.
Would he have dazzled at Hampden? Who knows? But it’s not his time for that just yet.