Moussa Dembele’s move to Celtic could be looked upon as a major own goal by his previous club Fulham from a financial perspective.
A deal was said to be in place during the January transfer window that would see Dembele go to Tottenham for a fee of £5,000,000. The transfer didn’t go ahead because Fulham wanted Spurs to immediately loan the player back to Craven Cottage. The London club would eventually finish 11 points clear of the relegation places, but with their second tier future hanging in the balance, they felt better off keeping Dembele. And, in fairness to Fulham, prior to the potential deal they’d won only once in their previous 14 league games. After January, with Dembele still at the club, they managed to reverse their fortunes somewhat, winning six their final 16. Dembele netted the winner in two of those games.
Fulham would have retained slim hope of convincing Dembele to sign another deal. Staying in southwest London, from an insularly English perspective, would have guaranteed first-team football, which is exactly what a 19-year-old needs for career development. But should they fail in their attempts to extend the player’s contract, which they did, they still retained the safety net of the Professional Football Compensation Committee. Or so they thought.
Movement of young players within England is pretty much the same as in Scotland. The variances lie in the age range (it’s under-24 in England and under-23 in Scotland) and the amount of money clubs are made to pay. SPFL tribunals have only ever set transfers at a modest six-figure sum, something around £200,000. In England, the record fee ordered by the PFCC was the £6,500,000 Liverpool were forced to pay Burnley for Danny Ings.
Fulham likely wouldn’t have got the £5,000,000 Spurs were offering, but it’s highly possible, if not probable, the compensation would have been a seven-figure sum. Fulham would have looked at the situation in January and assumed that’s how it would play out. Instead, they’ve been left with next to nothing as the rules don’t apply to cross-border moves.
Would Fulham have sold the player to Tottenham with the benefit of hindsight? Maybe. Maybe not. What is almost certain is that they never expected the young French striker to take his talents to Scotland. Some Fulham fans believe it represents a “lack of ambition” - an overused term to describe any player coming to Scotland by disgruntled English fans, as if playing somewhere in the middle of a 92-club ladder represents ambition - though it makes perfect sense for Dembele.
If he’s to be Celtic’s leading man this season, and those assurances will surely have been given to him prior to the move, then he’s got a great chance to showcase his talents in the Champions League. If he performs on that stage there’s no telling who could be interested. Arsenal and Chelsea were linked with him prior to his signing with Celtic, though recent history suggests he’d only end up on loan at another club as those two clubs tend to hoard young players rather than develop them. He’s much better off playing every week in Scotland.
• Since this article was initially published, Dembele has revealed that Celtic went in for him in the January window, which casts Fulham in an even gloomier light. Having known of the threat he could go for basically nothing, they must have gambled on Dembele choosing an English club and failed to respect the allure of Celtic. Or they thought interest from England’s elite would be greater than it was.