Brendan Rodgers has warned that Celtic’s prospects of success this season will be seriously undermined if Moussa Dembele is sold without a replacement striker being signed before the transfer window closes.
Dembele missed training with the Scottish champions yesterday as his agents opened talks with Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell over a potential £15 million move to Lyon.
The French club have confirmed their interest in Dembele as they seek a replacement for front man Mariano Diaz who is on the verge of a £21 million return to Real Madrid. In a quote posted on the club’s official Twitter account, president Jean-Michel Aulas said: “We are interested in Dembele. We got in touch with him, he’s interested. It’s a possible path, but there are others.”
Celtic manager Rodgers admits the possible departure of Dembele at such a late stage of the summer transfer window has left him in a “difficult situation” ahead of tonight’s Europa League play-off round, second leg meeting with Suduva in Glasgow and Sunday’s first Old Firm showdown of the campaign.
Rodgers insists he cannot afford to emerge from the closure of the window with only two recognised first team strikers at his disposal in Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths.
“I thought I could work with two strikers in my first season here,” said Rodgers. “But with the number of games and competitions we want to be in, that proved to be very difficult. So we need three strikers. So how it will evolve over the next three days, I’m unsure.
“It’s a case of pulling together something at this short notice to see what is available. It wasn’t an area of the pitch we were looking at because it’s one we are very strong in as it stands.
“It’s only three days before the end of the window and the club now have to deal with something like this now. So there’s a lot to take in, but you certainly can’t let your top striker move on without even having anyone to come in and replace him.”
Dembele joined Celtic from Fulham in the summer of 2016 and, despite spells when he has been sidelined by injury, has been a successful and prolific member of Rodgers’ double-treble winning squad.
The French under-21 international has scored 51 goals in 94 appearances for Celtic who turned down a £12 million bid for him from English Premier League side Brighton in the January transfer window this year.
Dembele has two years remaining on his contract but it’s believed there has always been an understanding Celtic would allow him to move on at this stage of his development if the right offer came along.
“It’s a really difficult situation because he’s a very talented player,” added Rodgers.
“He came in here for £385,000, to develop and improve, to become a better player. While he’s not from these shores, he can still love the club and look to make the next step in his career. It was always going to come at some point.
“The last couple of years, there’s been lots of speculation around it but nothing concrete. So it’s one I absolutely understand 100 per cent. The whole sort of plan that I’d spoken about with Moussa a couple of years ago, I understand why he might be thinking of the possibility of moving on. It was always in the thoughts.”
Dembele is now unlikely to feature for Celtic against Suduva tonight as Rodgers’ side, level at 1-1 after the first leg in Lithuania last week, look to secure their place in tomorrow’s Europa League group- stage draw.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he is,” added Rodgers. “The boy has been brilliant for me in my time here. But what I have to ensure is that when the player pulls on the shirt, there’s a total commitment to performing. If there’s not, then it’s understandable, especially if there’s speculation around it.”