If you’re looking out your window for flying pigs or some sign that Hell has frozen over, you don’t have to worry. I am agreeing with Neil Lennon for once and the world did not stop spinning on its axis to get me to do so.
The “news” today, if such you can call it, that he was less than impressed last season when Karamoko Dembele chapped on his door and demanded game time is nothing that I wouldn’t have expected from Lennon, or indeed any manager.
Players don’t get to demand that. The manager decides that, and only the manager decides that. The game is filled with players who stamp their feet and make demands, forgetting perhaps that they aren’t the centre of the football universe.
It is the guy in the dugout who has to stand and fall behind these sorts of decisions, and whatever you think of Lennon as a manager he has certainly paid a momentous price both personally and professionally for the mistakes that he has made in the game.
Everyone is entitled to think what they want about Dembele and whether or not he deserved more minutes; my view on it is that Lennon stuck with the players he claimed were unhappy and didn’t want to be there way longer than he should have.
At some point he should have given the youth players a chance if the first team had stopped playing for him, especially when the title race was over. But at the end of the day, these are the calls he was being paid to make and it was his neck on the line for making them.
The only way a football club functions is if the manager rules the roost. Players, and in particular young players, have to be patient and wait for their chance to come. Ralston has and look at the rewards he’s reaped for it.
Although Lennon gets a reputation for not progressing our younger footballers, I believe he’s a fundamentally selfish guy and if he saw in Dembele an opportunity to turn his situation around he would have grabbed it. He promoted Jeremie Frimpong because he realised that he could help the first team and that there was no-one better in the role … if he’d seen something in Dembele which convinced him of the same, he’d have played every week.
The hype that has surrounded this kid has been enormous, but really hype is all that it is. Dembele has never progressed in the way a lot of people thought and hoped that he would; the days when we were fighting off other clubs for him are definitely over.
Reports today that the club is as reluctant to offer him a new deal as he might be to sign one are not entirely surprising in light of that. The great optimism which once existed over his future is no longer what it once was … and it may be in everyone’s interests for him to go.
But that’s not Neil Lennon’s fault. It is up to every player to make himself an indispensable part of the manager’s thinking; Ralston has managed it under Ange as Forrest and others managed it under Rodgers. You have to step up when the moment comes, and although you see flashes that Karamoko has the class to make it you wonder if he will.
Certainly he shouldn’t have been making demands of Lennon or anyone else. Young players in the game are increasingly frustrated … and frustrating. It’s the ones who think of the long haul who have the best chance of making it in such an unforgiving environment.
Dembele just needs to knuckle down and wait … and he and Celtic face a very big decision on what the future holds.