Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan has promised to utilise every possible resource in a bid to prevent Celtic prodigy Karamoko Dembele from pledging his international allegiance to England.
The 13-year-old attacking midfielder, who sprang to prominence earlier this month when he made his debut for the Scottish champions’ under-20 side, is currently taking part in a training camp with the England under-15 squad at the English FA’s national football centre at St George’s Park.
Dembele, who was born in London to parents from the Ivory Coast, moved to Glasgow as an infant and has been included in the Scotland under-16 squad which will compete in the Victory Shield tournament at the Oriam national performance centre in Edinburgh next week.
Scotland are desperate to avoid Dembele slipping through their net but now face serious competition for the highly-rated youngster from England. Regan, however, is hopeful that the time invested in Dembele by the Celtic youth academy in partnership with St Ninian’s High School in Kirkintilloch – which is now connected to the Scottish FA’s own performance school programme – will help retain the teenager’s loyalty.
“We want to make Karamoko feel wanted and valued,” said Regan. “Celtic are certainly doing that. I visited the performance school at St Ninian’s myself a couple of weeks ago and saw the set-up they have, which is magnificent.
“The attention to detail, the attention Karamoko is getting as a young player – and now being brought into the Scotland’s Victory Shield squad at a young age – is a fantastic opportunity.
“We will try to do everything we possibly can to bring him into the Scottish system. That’s something we definitely have on our radar.
“If you have talented players who are eligible for other countries then, clearly, they are always going to be attractive to other associations. We have to do what we can – and that is why he has been called into the Victory Shield squad. We can only do everything we possibly can in our power. Ultimately the choice will come down to the boy and his parents. But we will do all we actually can to make him a Scotland player.”
Dembele is one of 15 performance school pupils who are in Scotland’s squad for the Victory Shield matches against Northern Ireland on Sunday, Wales next Tuesday and then Republic of Ireland next Friday.
The performance school programme was launched five years ago as a key plank of the Scottish FA’s ‘Scotland United: A 2020 Vision’ strategic plan in the wake of former First Minister Henry McLeish’s review of Scottish football.
One of the ultimate targets was to have players from the performance schools in a Scotland squad which qualifies for the European Championship finals in 2020, which will be staged in 13 cities including Glasgow which will host four matches at Hampden.
Regan was speaking at the official launch of Glasgow’s Uefa Euro 2020 logo and branding yesterday. He said: “It’s an aspiration and a vision for Scotland to make Euro 2020 – even moreso given that Hampden Park will be a host for four games.
“We set out our vision a few years ago and said that it would be great if some of our kids coming through the performance school could pull on a dark blue shirt and run out at Hampden having qualified for a major tournament.
“That’s what we are all working towards.
“We have a great opportunity and Hampden Park being host to a major European Championship means it’s a great catalyst and opportunity for us to build towards it and we’ll be doing everything we can to get there. From a football point of view, we will never have a better chance to showcase Scottish football for the next generation than to qualify in our own backyard.”