Celtic boss didn’t know Karamoko Dembele was playing for U20s

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was not told in advance that 13-year-old Karamoko Dembele had been picked for the under 20s squad to play Hearts. 'Picture: Jamie Williamson
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was not told in advance that 13-year-old Karamoko Dembele had been picked for the under 20s squad to play Hearts. 'Picture: Jamie Williamson
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Brendan Rodgers has expressed his concern over the frenzied reaction to 13-year-old Karamoko Dembele’s debut for the Celtic under-20s earlier this month and has warned that the precocious talent will “become a statistic” if he is not allowed to develop away from the glare of publicity.

Celtic manager Rodgers revealed he was unaware that Dembele had been called into the club’s full time development squad for their SPFL under-20 fixture against Hearts at Cappielow two weeks ago.

Dembele, born in Scotland to parents from the Ivory Coast, appeared as a late substitute in the match, prompting media coverage which extended throughout Europe and beyond.

Rodgers believes the scale of interest it provoked came as a surprise to Celtic’s academy manager Chris McCart, performance director Jim McGuinness and under-20s coach Tommy McIntyre.

Dembele will now be withdrawn from the spotlight by Rodgers who intends to take a more hands-on role in how the player is handled.

“I didn’t know he was playing [for the under-20s],” said Rodgers. “Would I have sanctioned it? That’s not the point. The point is he played. In the modern world, everything is a story.

“You just have to be very careful. He is a kid. That’s what he is. He’s not a 13-year-old in the body of a 19-year-old. He doesn’t have those maturation levels. He really looks 13.

“As much as what his ability is and how fast he is, the worry for me when I saw it was if a 25-year-old tackles him. I’m a father and as good as they are, I worry from a parent’s perspective. But he’s a talent and it will be managed going forward. Will I take a more hands-on role? Yes.

“Chris McCart, Jim McGuinness and Tommy McIntyre are doing a very good job with the young players. I’m sure they probably never realised the scope of media attention it would have had.

“But it’s football, and I oversee football here. I obviously trust the guys here who do great work.

“I spent time this week with the academy, it was a few hours talking to them about things and they are very open to what we are trying to do here. So it’s not an issue, it’s not a problem, but it’s certainly something going forward that we will manage.”

Dembele’s rich potential was brought to Rodgers’ attention soon after he took charge at Celtic in June.

“I took him in for one session with the first team early on in my time here,” added Rodgers. “When I arrived, I’d heard about his talent. It was a light, technical session and you can see how diminutive he is.

“He’s obviously a talent but he’s young and there is so much development and so much needs to happen for him to go on and become a player.

“At this moment in time we have to nurture it and ensure he is challenged at the right times. He is a child, he’s a baby. He’s a talented boy at 13 years of age and has had a lot of attention. But he just needs to be left alone to develop. Then hopefully he can go and achieve, and make the steps we want him to.

“I could go through a million kids who I’ve helped develop and seen. You have to be calm with them, you have to respect their talent. You have to challenge them but there is also a huge psychological side of it, especially in the modern world with social media. I don’t do any social media, nothing. But it must be really difficult growing up with it now. If you are a talent, then the minute you are, people want to knock you down.

“If you are a big talent, whatever field you are in, people want to bring you down. That’s for us us to try and manage the best we can.

“He’s a talented boy, he’s a great kid and had a good family. I had them all at Lennoxtown and we had a chat and they are happy so we need to manage that.

“We need to let him be free, otherwise it’s a story which you can fill 20 pages with if you want, both good and bad.

“It’s not good for the kid. Ultimately you want him to play for Scotland, you want him to play for Celtic and he needs to be left alone otherwise he becomes a statistic.”