Karamoko Dembele would not be fazed at Hampden, says Callum McGregor

Celtic have become accustomed to making history in recent seasons. Two years ago they set a new domestic record by going 69 games without defeat and last year they became the first club to complete a clean sweep of domestic honours for a second successive season.

Celtic's Karamoko Dembele is tackled by Hearts' Aaron Hickey. Picture: SNS
Celtic's Karamoko Dembele is tackled by Hearts' Aaron Hickey. Picture: SNS

They can set another new landmark at Hampden on Saturday by beating Hearts to clinch a triple treble but that may not be the end of it this weekend. Karamoko Dembele made his senior debut for the champions in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Craig Levein’s side at Parkhead, replacing Oliver Burke at the interval and producing glimpses of the scintillating form which has made him one of the hottest prospects in the game.

Should he appear at any stage at the national stadium he will become, at only 16 years and 92 days, the youngest footballer to feature in a major British cup final, eclipsing John Fleck, the midfielder who came off the bench for Rangers in their 3-2 Scottish Cup final win over Queen of the South in 2008 aged 16 years and 214 days.

Dembele’s progress has been followed by fans on their smart phones and laptops as his sumptuous skills have featured on YouTube and other outlets as he has sped through the ranks. He played for Celtic’s Under-20 side when he was only 13 and did not look out of place. Nor did he when he made his bow on Sunday.

Midfielder Callum McGregor knows how it feels to graduate from Celtic’s academy, although he was 21 before he made his breakthrough under Ronny Deila in 2014. He has few doubts that Dembele is in possession of the right stuff.

“At such a young age, to come on and play with the maturity he did against Hearts was great,” he said. “You can see his football brain working before the ball even comes to him.

“It’s a massive talent to have at that age and, if he was to get on at the weekend in the Scottish Cup final, it would be an amazing achievement.

“He certainly seems like nothing fazes him. As soon as he came into first-team training, he looked comfortable and he isn’t overawed by the other players, which you might expect from young kids.

“Karamoko’s been brilliant. We’ve got a good group and the lads have helped him to settle in.

“A lot of us have made that step so we know how it feels and it’s important when the young ones come in that we make them feel comfortable.”

Celtic have been here before, of course. Islam Feruz was a precocious talent who made his debut for Scotland’s Under-21 side when he was only 16 but he followed the money and signed for Chelsea at the same age without ever having played for Celtic’s first team.

Unsuccessful loan spells followed with OFI Crete, Blackpool, Hibs, Royal Excel Mouscron and Swindon Town. Now 23, he has just been released by the London club without ever having appeared for them either.

“The management of the club might look at the situation with Islam Feruz and learn from how they handled that but Karamoko is undoubtedly a top talent and, ultimately, people will be looking and talking about him,” said McGregor.

“But he’s a young kid and you just want to play football at that age. He’ll get a lot more game time at Celtic at an earlier age, which will help him develop.

“You could see Karamoko’s talent at the weekend. At 16 years old, to come on and play like that shows you’re a top talent and he’s got the mentality to handle everything.

“But it’s important we manage him properly and everyone doesn’t get carried away and expect him to be in the team every week.

“He’s still a young kid and he’s got to learn and grow and it’s our job as senior players and a club to look after him and mentor him to get the best out of him.

“The first time I watched him was when the video clips were going about social media of him in youth tournaments and he looked like a world beater at that age.

“It’s just been a matter of time until we got him in full-time and there’s been talk of him making his debut for a while so we’re delighted for him that he came in and did so well.

“Hopefully, we’ll be seeing him in a Celtic top for years to come.

“The way he plays is perfect for Celtic and he’ll excite the fans but it’s about looking after him and putting him in in the right games and letting him flourish.”