We are forever hearing that the Champions League is a £20 million competition for Celtic. Last night, there was a £20m player competing for Celtic in the tournament. There is really no other way of assessing the display of Moussa Dembele. No other conclusion to arrive at than Celtic supporters better savour the sight of the 20-year-old – he only left his teens two months ago – in their colours because it seems inconceivable that he won’t be spirited away to the English Premier League for a fee dwarfing the £12m Scottish record that Celtic received for Virgil van Dijk.
Dembele has recently told reporters in his French homeland that Tottenham are keeping an eye on him. Chelsea were said to have swithered about signing him before Celtic acquired him for £500,000 – much less than English sides would have had to pay because of cross-border compensation rules for players under 23.
Sharing a pitch with £60m-bracketed attackers such as Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and David Silva, Dembele was every inch their equal, and not just because of his scoring double.
The overhead kick that brought him his second goal just moments after the restart was the first such piece of audacity to bring Celtic a Champions League goal in the club’s nine campaigns at this elite level. His third-minute opener, meanwhile, was the quickest goal the club have ever scored in the tournament.
He brimmed with sheer power and poise as he teased and tormented Aleksandar Kolarov and Nicolas Otamendi, by turns holding the pair off, and charging at them to remove from the City defence any vestige of assurance. Dembele tired, naturally, but his potency, wrapped up in a sinewy, athletic physique, never entirely waned.
It is incredible to think now how many sniffy appraisals were offered up of Dembele when he did not shine in his opening handful of appearances as he sought to find his fitness and groove
The verdict on the France under-20 forward by no less than Zinedine Zidane, who claimed Celtic had a future Galactico on their books, was treated with utter derision.
Now Dembele boasts 12 goals in eight appearances, the first hat-trick in a Celtic-Rangers league derby in 50 years, and is halfway to the total number of goals that Henrik Larsson netted for the Parkhead side in the Champions League.
Bookmakers are already only giving short odds against Dembele breaking the 40-goal mark this season,a feat which hasn’t prevented last season’s hero Leigh Griffiths warming the bench due to the youngster’s exploits.
A storied night at Celtic Park, when the cauldron bubbled like a witches brew, was made by the dazzle of Dembele. He may not be in Scottish football long but, allied with his manager Brendan Rodgers, his efforts in securing the 3-3 draw that seemed inconceivable against a previously rampant Pep Guardiola side helped bring welcome pride in the game within these borders.