The Karamoko Dembele opportunity that Celtic should take against Hibs on Saturday

A classic football cliche is to claim that there is no such thing as a meaningless game in football.

Karamoko Dembele scores his first senior goal, to bring up the 4-0 win over St Johnstone. A strike that should earn him a first senior start in the club's final game of the season, away to Hibs on Saturday. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

Celtic interim manager John Kennedy has the opportunity to prove the point as the Parkhead club bring to a close a ruinous season away to Hibs on Saturday.

With third place in the Premiership banked, the home team are entirely unlikely to be fussed about risking senior players they will be relying on in the Scottish Cup final a week later. Their line-up, therefore, is likely to be populated by fringe and younger players. Kennedy should consider that provides the opportunity to do the same – particularly in the case of Karamoko Dembele, a player fresh from bagging his first senior goal at the end of Wednesday’s 4-0 victory at home to St Johnstone.

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The 18-year-old has been burdened by unfair expectations of being an in-waiting “superstar” – Kennedy’s word the other night – since he was barely into his teens. In the past year that has been replaced by whispers of a questionable attitude, and faltering development, and claims he was set to cut his ties with Celtic this summer.

Post-match, Kennedy quelled the exit chat by confirming the teenager still has a year of his current contract remaining beyond this season. And he also suggested Dembele is showing up sufficiently behind the scenes in stating it was not a “token gesture” to bring him on for the closing 11 minutes of normal time the other night. In the move being rewarded by a classy finish from the youngster, surely there would be nothing lost to give him a chance from the first whistle?

There will forever be concerns over Dembele’s stature and build. At 18, he is unlikely to stretch beyond his current 5ft 5in height...and smidgen taller than Maradona, and within two inches of a certain Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and Joe Allen. He inarguably possesses towering abilities. Tall talents, indeed, recognised beyond Scotland’s confines – the forward handed a first start for England’s under-18s as recently as late March.

Celtic’s epic straight trophy run across the four seasons ahead of this barren, brutal campaign, hasn’t assisted Dembele’s cause. It has meant that since his first senior appearance in the final league game of the 2018-19 season – the winger then given 18 minutes in a 2-1 win over Hearts – they have never really had true dead rubbers allowing for them to mix up their starting line-up any way they fancy.

Allied to Dembele’s relative youth, it explains why he has had only 104 senior minutes across seven appearances the past two years. Notably, though, Kennedy also gave him the last 10 minutes at Pittodrie the other week, a cameo in which he was busy. It might not seem much, but in featuring twice across three games, the current spell represents Dembele’s most concerted first-team involvement. In fact, this season he has made four appearances in total from the bench, highlighting that he has not been as distant from the senior set-up as the perception might suggest. All of which strengthens the case for Saturday at Easter Road bringing up a second significant career landmark of the week for Dembele.

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