In a week when 13-year-old Karamoko Dembele shot to prominence having played for Celtic’s development squad, Hibs manager Neil Lennon has expressed his own reservations at youngsters being pushed too far too early.
When he was Celtic manager, Lennon saw at first hand the precocious talent of Islam Feruz only to watch him head for the bright lights of London and Chelsea at the age of only 16.
At the time Lennon insisted Feruz was being poorly advised, an opinion which appears to have been totally vindicated as the Scotland Under-21 forward has all but disappeared from sight, a string of loan deals – including one at Easter Road – failing to rekindle that early promise.
However, while agreeing Dembele has an obvious talent, Lennon believes his former employers will do all in their power to nurture and protect him, to allow his career to develop at the player’s pace rather than attempt to force him through.
He said: “I am sure there are lessons learned from Islam’s situation. We felt at the time that he was making the wrong decision. I don’t think he had the right structure in the background on the personal side of things to deal with what was lying ahead.
“Dembele needs a good family set-up, don’t run too soon. I don’t know the boy’s background and his family, but he is a talent, he is good to watch and he just needs nurtured and protected. We live in an age where clubs are well structured to do that and Celtic as a club will do everything they can to protect him and do things in his best interest.
“Dembele is still a kid and hopefully he can still have a nice upbringing and enjoy his football. We need to remember he is a 13-year-old kid. I’m actually not all that comfortable talking about him as he is so young.”
Lennon has his own promising youngster at Easter Road in 15-year-old Yrik Galantes who made a much less publicised appearance for Hibs’ development squad in midweek but, the manager insisted, he is in no hurry to rush the kid through, content to leave him in the hands of his academy coaches.
He said: “We want him to develop with the rest of them. I’m not saying he’s an outstanding talent, but he’s got something because the guys think he’s good enough to make an impact. I worry about going younger and younger. I think 18 is the cut off point in terms of playing for the first team unless they’re really exceptional. Dembele may be – but it’s far too early to judge.”
Meanwhile, Lennon will today look for Hibs to end a run of three matches without a win as they face St Mirren in the fourth round of the Irn-Bru Cup, a trophy he insisted he is intent on winning.
To that end Lennon, who fielded a second-string in the previous round against Highland League side Turriff United, will name as strong as possible a line-up, although midfielder John McGinn will be absent on international duty as Scotland face Lithuania in their second World Cup qualifier at Hampden later in the day.
He said: “Changing the squad for Turriff proved to be the right decision, but as far as St Mirren goes, I don’t plan to make wholesale changes for this one. It’s a cup competition and one I’d like to win so I won’t be taking it lightly. I don’t think we are playing badly at all, I said to the boys this week that we’ll play worse and win.”