There was a straightforward rejoinder to those debating how Celtic might fare in their post-Moussa Dembele world yesterday: they have already had a successful dry run at it. Without the Frenchman for much of last season after he failed to start 33 games, it didn’t turn out too badly for the double-treble winners.
Ultimately, it was more the circumstances than the actual departure itself that made his wheedling his way out of the Glasgow club to join Lyon for £19.7 million hours before the window closed so potentially unsettling for the squad and manager he left behind.
The as-you-were nature of Celtic on the field was reflected in the fact their starting line-up for yesterday’s 1-0 victory was the self-same as for their 5-0 flailing of the Ibrox men in the pair’s last meeting. While Rangers have patently improved under Steven Gerrard, the dominance that Brendan Rodgers’ side exerted was in the mould of previous vanquishings in the course of their 12-game unbeaten sequence in the fixture in all but the final scoreline.
It was suspected that Celtic’s torturous transfer window would cause trauma and tremors that would reverberate into their first face-off with Gerrard’s revitalised, and unbeaten, Rangers. It didn’t. Dembele is a top-class talent. He can be explosive when his hamstrings are not limiting his game time. A total of 51 goals in 94 appearances, and seven strikes against Rangers, reflects that. Yet, with a third straight clean sheet coinciding with Dedryck Boyata’s third straight outing this season, Celtic’s retention of a defender who attempted to work his ticket before Dembele had even considered agitating, may, in time, prove significant for their fortunes. No matter that Rodgers is disquieted at only – only – having Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths to choose from for the central striker role.
An exasperating summer window patently also left the Irishman nursing personal reputational bruising he sought to apply a balm on post-match. He did so by calling out Dembele for the tactics the player employed to lever his way out of the club.
The forward accused the Celtic manager on social media of breaking promises made to him about being allowed to move on. Sources in the French sporting press ran with claims that the Celtic manager had three times tried to push him into accepting moves – most notably a switch to Brighton in January.
The forward then utterly torched his relationship with Rodgers by sulking on the training pitch at Lennoxtown on Friday to spark a confrontation between the pair. In turn, yesterday Rodgers sought to turn to ash Dembele’s version of events in the lead-up to his return to his homeland.
“The whole episode really was disappointing,” said Rodgers of the player who joined Celtic in a £385,000 deal from Fulham weeks after his own arrival in June 2016. “I will say a bit on it then that will be it then. I had a very close relationship with Moussa. I enticed him to come here with a plan going forward. He was, of course, desperate for the move. We wanted to try and keep him because we didn’t have another [striking] option.
“But then there was a line that was overstepped from a behaviour perspective. I have been in this situation enough times to know whether you can pull it back or not. I needed to speak to Mouss, and I had a few other senior members of staff with me, and I just asked him ‘can you tell me and the guys in the room here if you received promises from me or any member of Celtic?’ It was very clear and categoric he said ‘no’. So once he said that that was fine. I said: ‘You can now go if you can get the move’.
“There was a lot of stuff that was said that was not so nice and not true. But Moussa has got his move, he is back home, he is happy. Deep down, I know he is a good boy. He has done great for us here and I wish him the very best at Lyon.”