Celtic youngsters may hold key in team rebuild

By Euan Davidson

May 13, 2021

It’s important not to take too much away from Celtic beating St Johnstone last night.

Of course, there was a great deal of emotion. It was Broony’s last game for the Bhoys at Paradise, and the club didn’t half mark the occasion. Also, it was a relatively meaningless match, even if the Bhoys’ attacking play was engrossing to watch at times. St Johnstone had injuries, Celtic were sort of rotating their squad. In other seasons, you’d have counted it as a routine victory.

However, there are things we can take away, and can do so with a genuine, founded sense of optimism. Namely, the contributions of two Celtic youngsters. Is it maybe time to start feeling positive about the Academy again?

Don’t be under any illusions; the board are going to have to hand over the cash this coming pre-season. We’re talking a Martin O’Neill or Gordon Strachan-style rebuild here. That much was obvious, given the sense of occasion surrounding our captain.

All that said, we can gleam real hope, for the first time in a long time, because Adam Montgomery and Karamoko Dembele were excellent at times last night. First, Montgomery: if you weren’t a Celtic supporter, or even someone who doesn’t watch Scottish football, you’d be forgiven for thinking Monty (as nobody is calling him) had been there for ages.

There’s Adam Montgomery. No.54. Look, there he is / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Montgomery at the fore for Celtic, Karamoko off the mark

As I stated post-match, Montgomery was everywhere. Unafraid of taking on the ball, his was one of the better left-back performances of the season. On his debut – his debut, mind – he only gave the ball away three times. His heatmap and touches map [WhoScored?], as well as simply watching him play, showed his enthusiasm to cover the entire left-flank.

Perhaps most encouragingly, he ably provided support for Elyounoussi, who had license to cut inside, something very much to the Norwegian’s strengths.

It’d be incredibly premature to say there’s “shades of Tierney”, but none of us would turn down a worthy KT tribute act. Even to suggest that, though, would be a disservice. In 60 minutes, Montgomery showed that we needn’t necessarily splash the cash for a second-choice left-back next season. That’s a possibly significant saving, and one that will delight the supporters. After all, what’s better than seeing a player rise through the ranks and make an impact?

Karamoko Dembele, meanwhile, cooly slotted home a finish that saw the Bhoys go 4 up. As my colleague David Walton pointed out at the time, that’s a very clear progression in his technique. As David said, and I agreed, Karamoko might’ve tried to beat the keeper, or snatched at the chance. Instead, he showed flair and guile, cooly dispatching his opportunity.

To not gleam any kernel of encouragement from that is wilful grumpiness.

Sealing long-term contracts must surely be a focus

Montgomery is contracted at the club until 2025 [Scotsman], and Dembele’s confusing contract situation was cleared up weeks ago, but it still leaves cause for concern.

We saw the new, improved version of Karamoko Dembele last night, even in a short cameo. Physically, he looks more imposing. He’s still got bags of tricks to excite supporters, but his directness and eagerness to carve out opportunities show a maturity to his game. If John Kennedy can garner praise for anything, then he deserves some plaudits for working on Dembele’s game.

It also shows a receptiveness from Dembele himself. That’s also true of Montgomery, who was encouraged by Academy coach Darren O’Dea to completely change his starting position. That’s to the credit of both coaches, as well as Chris McCart and Tommy McIntyre.

However, if it’s to be a long-term success, Celtic really need to look at getting Karamoko to sign the dotted line on an extension. It’s already incredibly likely that the Bhoys have had to fend off interest, and that will only increase if young Dembele is getting more opportunities. Clearly, he has the ability to command more first-team minutes.

So, we’re not getting carried away. We might not have the next Quality Street Gang waiting to make their mark. However, there’s real potential here, and if you can’t get excited about youngsters showing their promise in the first-team, then perhaps this isn’t the right sport for you.

READ MORE: Is it time to reassess this Hoops squad option?