Moussa Dembele is prepared to sacrifice the chance of helping Celtic complete the domestic treble this month in order to ensure he is in prime condition for the start of their Champions League qualifying campaign in July.
It was initially believed the French striker’s season had been ended by the hamstring injury which forced him to limp out of Celtic’s Scottish Cup semi-final win over Rangers ten days ago. Dembele has responded well to treatment, however, and has not yet been ruled out of contention to return in time for the cup final against Aberdeen at Hampden on 27 May.
The 20-year-old has made a major contribution to Celtic’s dominant season with 32 goals to his credit, helping him make the short-list for both the PFA Scotland Player and Young Player of the Year awards announced yesterday. Dembele insists his priority as he recovers from injury is to be ready for Celtic’s first European match on 11 or 12 July, another indication of his contentment to remain with the Scottish champions despite constant transfer speculation linking him with a host of major English and continental clubs.
“The injury is doing well,” said Dembele. “I’m working in the gym every day, trying to get fit. I don’t know if I’m ahead of schedule – I’m just working as hard as I can and we’ll see what happens. I’m just trying to get fit and, if that’s before the cup final, that would be good but if not I’ll just go on holiday and then come back for pre-season training. There’s a chance I could play in the final maybe but also maybe not. It’s three weeks until the final so there’s still time but I will listen to the physios. With an injury like this, you need to take care.
“Personally, I will need to be 100 per cent fit if I am to play, especially with a muscle injury. Otherwise, I will just get injured again so I will just take my time. If I am not fit in time for the final then I will come back stronger for the Champions League qualifying games. I didn’t think that my season was over when I got the injury but I felt something straight away. I’ve had hamstring injuries before so I knew I couldn’t carry on – that’s why I looked to the bench immediately and asked them to make the change. Missing the Rangers game at Ibrox on Saturday was frustrating but I’ve played in five already this season and the other boys did well. They looked especially hungry and they deserved the win – in fact, they could have scored even more goals than they did.”
Juventus and Borussia Dortmund were again strongly credited with an interest in Dembele yesterday in the French media, but the former Fulham player continues to shrug off the speculation.
“I have never said that I am going to leave this club,” added Dembele. “I have said nothing about transfers and I don’t want to speak about it. This season has not finished yet and for me I just want to focus on my fitness and come back stronger. I can’t tell you what the future will be. The next step in my career will be to get back on the pitch and after that we will see what will happen. I don’t listen to speculation, I just focus on my football. I have people around me who take care of that so I just have to focus on my football 100 per cent when I go on the pitch. I have got a four-year contract. I have never said I am going to leave this club. I am progressing here. As I told you when I first came, I want to be one of the best strikers in the world and the road is still far for me to go but I feel like I am getting there. There are many more challenges here. We have the Champions League coming up and we will also want to defend our title next season.”