The news, yesterday, that Connor Hazard is being considered for a new contract will have two major benefits, the most important of which might not be immediately obvious; it should surely be the point at which all this nonsensical talk about Fraser Forster returning in January comes to an end.
We aren’t going to dig ourselves out of this hole by signing a player who turned down a chance to return in the summer and who would only consider us now because his last career gamble ended badly. Forster has left us twice now; that should end all talk of a third spell.
The other benefit is that it ties a promising youth player to the club; I hope we get to see more of him. Obviously, I’d prefer it at the moment if we got Barkas up to speed and put him in the team, but Hazard is a good understudy and someone with a big future.
It’s obviously very cool when the club goes out and brings in talented players, but there is something much more satisfying when the club develops a top player instead. McGregor, Forrest, Johnson, Tierney … all have come through in the last few years, and it was glorious to watch those guys develop and grow and become key players.
More than anyone else, I think, we all had high hopes for Karamoko Dembele.
Not since Islam Feruz have we all been so impressed with a youngster making his way up through the ranks.
Not since Feruz have we so hyped a young player.
And not since Feruz has there been a nagging suspicion that we never actually would see a kid take the step from being a youth prospect to being a first team footballer, because other clubs were sniffing around.
With Dembele it has always been there, in the background, awful in its implications.
How do you hang on to a talent like this in the modern game, when you know clubs from abroad, including England, can offer him a better standard of football and more money?
Part of my concern over the current coaching system is a deep rooted suspicion that we don’t spend nearly enough money or time or effort on youth football, and we have a governing body here in Scotland which has done not one positive thing to make it easier for us to do that.
Our development squad is in what Hollywood calls “development Hell” … a godawful process where what progress there is takes forever and sometimes stops completely dead. As a result, a number of our most promising young players have left rather than hang around and stagnate.
I’ve written about this a couple of times. Whilst it’s no great loss to see players depart who have never even played first team football, the number of them is a concern and especially when a couple of them already look like emerging as major talents.
I have never been 100% convinced about Karamoko Dembele.
I want to believe we’ve got a superstar on our hands, and whilst I believe Lennon has been particularly bad at promoting young talent – whereas Ronny Deila was notably very, very good – I have always thought if this kid was half as talented as has been speculated that he’d make himself impossible to ignore.
We have no right sided midfield player just now, and yet Lennon hasn’t even given this kid a sniff. Is there a reason for that, besides the manager’s tendency to go with what he’s got? Because if Dembele has the skill-set why in God’s name are we not utilising it?
If there are attitude issues, as were there with Feruz, then I can well understand why he’s not in the team. If you’re a promising youth player, you need to work harder than the first team players because they have earned the right to play at that level whilst you haven’t. If you aren’t putting in the shift, then perhaps you just don’t care enough.
And perhaps you think you’re better than you are.
But there’s another possible reason too, of course; perhaps Dembele doesn’t have a future here and there’s no point in the club pretending otherwise. I suspect that the question is going to be taken off the table in February.
My guys tell me that’s when Dembele’s Celtic contract is up. If he’s been offered a new one he hasn’t signed it yet and if he hasn’t signed it yet we’ve got no reason to believe that he will. There will be plenty of interest in him; the hype machine will take care of that.
How big a loss will Dembele be?
Well, he hasn’t played much for the first team, and experience has taught us that these kids don’t all become superlative players. For every Andy Robertson there is an Islam Feruz, someone who gets a lot of press attention but never does anything of note.
It will be a blow to lose this kid just the same, even if he flops somewhere else. There’s been so much hope invested in him that it will be dreadful to see him sign a contract with another club. It will be another psychological hit in a season full of them so far.