Having overseen the sales of Luis Suarez to Barcelona for £65 million and Raheem Sterling to Manchester City for £49m during his tenure as Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers has a keen appreciation of market values at the highest level in football.
But even he finds it difficult to put a price on the young man who in just five months under his guidance at Celtic has become arguably the hottest property in Europe.
Moussa Dembele’s list of admirers seems to lengthen by the day, with Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho the latest to be credited with an interest in the 20-year-old striker whose reputation was further enhanced on Monday night when he struck twice for the French under-21 side in their 3-2 win over England.
Dembele has now scored four goals in four appearances at under-21 level and is expected to earn a maiden call-up to Didier Deschamps’ senior French squad soon. Added to the 16 goals he has already claimed for Celtic, including the high profile hat-trick against Rangers and the brilliant Champions League double against Manchester City, it makes the £500,000 compensation fee paid to Fulham for his services in the summer one of the shrewdest pieces of transfer business ever completed by the Scottish champions.
Rodgers remains confident Celtic will resist any overtures for Dembele during the forthcoming January window and is understandably keen to work with the player for as much of the four-year deal he signed at the club as possible. But when the time does come for Dembele to move on, Rodgers believes it will be for a sum which blows Scottish football’s current record – the £13m Southampton paid Celtic for Virgil van Dijk 18 months ago – out of the water.
Unlike Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster, who all moved to the St Mary’s outfit for eight-figure fees, Rodgers also insists Dembele will make a direct move to one of Europe’s elite clubs who will happily pay a premium for his services.
“The price tag will be whatever it is,” said Rodgers, pictured. “It is not for me to speculate about that. But the kid is clearly one of the great potential strikers in the world. The kid still needs time. Every time he scores a goal, his price tag goes up and it seems he has been sold. But he has signed for four years here. I think everyone wants to get him in and then sell him off. If he leaves here, at whatever point that will be, it will be for a record transfer fee. There is no question about that.
“I have worked with players who have gone for a lot of money. Raheem Sterling went for £49m and he was a winger. Luis went for the money that he went for. He was an international player and after two years he left a world-class player. So this kid has the potential in value. Celtic won’t have to worry about players going for £10m any more. Look at Wanyama for example. People were unsure whether he could play in the Premier League. He goes to Southampton, a mid-table Premier League team. He was a really good player when he was here. He goes to Southampton then he jumps to Tottenham. They don’t need that springboard anymore.
“With all due respect, I’ve worked with big players, I know the value of big players, I know the value of young players. If they’re working here, they’re in the best environment they could be in. We might not have the Premier League propaganda and the money that goes with that, but they’re still top players. If he leaves here, he can go to the big level. So there’s a value and a market for that.
“Players like Moussa are a premium for the big clubs. I sensed it when I was at Liverpool. Trying to get a player that might be worth £10m somewhere else becomes £20m when you’re at that type of club. But, listen, he’s only been here five months. He’s a huge talent, we know that. There’s a lot of work for him still to do to improve. His people know that, he knows that and that’s the beauty of him. He’s a very mature kid, he wants to learn. He wants to be the best he can be. Where he is in four years’ time, we’ll have to wait and see, but at this moment in time, his best place – as he has seen himself – is here, learning and developing and being coached and being prepared if he moves on later.”
Watching the live television coverage of the France-England under-21 game earlier this week, Rodgers took pride in what he regards as reflected glory for the Scottish game from Dembele’s performance.
“Listening to the commentary, I felt it was great for Scottish football when you have a player achieving everything Moussa is while playing in a league that is supposedly the backwater of football,” he said. “They were talking through his games this season, about scoring in the derby games against Rangers, scoring two against Manchester City and another important goal against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League. There were not many players on that pitch on Monday night who are doing that. So it is great recognition for the club and Scottish football. He has shown it at a really big level now and there is still a long way for him to go. He is one we hope we can keep to continue his development.”
Dembele made a significant contribution to Rodgers being named Scottish Premiership Manager of the Month for October yesterday, already the second time he has lifted the prize in his first season at Celtic.
“It is a great tribute to the players and the staff and how hard they have been working,” said Rodgers. “It was a good month for us in terms of performances and results and hopefully we get it again for this month as well. It is testimony to the work and the appetite for the team to be better and win and play well. I never tend to look at these things on an individual level but it is nice for the team and the management staff to get that recognition.”
Celtic can move 13 points clear at the top of the Premiership with a victory at Kilmarnock tonight, but the Friday night scheduling is an issue for Rodgers after an international break which saw Emilio Izaguirre and Tom Rogic only return to training yesterday after long-haul trips to play for Honduras and Australia respectively.