Dembele can't deliver Celtic win but time is on his side

There are many things that Moussa Dembele has already achieved in his Celtic career. Playing in a Champions League win is not one of them. Until last night, he hadn't even started in the competition this season.
Celtic striker Moussa Dembele holds off Bayern's David Alaba. Picture: SNSCeltic striker Moussa Dembele holds off Bayern's David Alaba. Picture: SNS
Celtic striker Moussa Dembele holds off Bayern's David Alaba. Picture: SNS

The step-up in Leigh Griffiths’ game has meant the absence of the 21-year-old Frenchman – laid off with a hamstring problem for the first two months of the season – has proved far from as pronounced as would have been thought when, a year ago, Champions League performances had his market value being ramped up to 
£40 million.

After his double against Manchester City 14 months ago, it was being confidently predicted that by this time in his career he would be playing for a powerhouse just like the Bayern Munich side visiting Celtic Park last night.

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Back-to-back hamstring tears have meant it is only in recent weeks that a fit-again Dembele has started to look like the player who mashed Scottish defences in scoring 32 goals in little over the six months he played before succumbing to injury.

Following Dembele’s double in the dismantling of Aberdeen last midweek, and the double-dunting suffered by Celtic in their Champion League outings against Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern away there seemed no question that Brendan Rodgers would turn to his talisman last night. He would do so in the hope of inspiring the sort of display against top drawer opposition in which he was so integral last season.

The physique and comportment of Dembele alone make him look the part in this company. The ball would not always stick for him 
early on but he was capable of 
grappling and hustling with centre-back pairing Jerome Boateng and Niklas Sule in a manner that did not allow them to stroll around.

Dembele was only able to make a limited impression with just a couple of half chances falling to him. Instead, it was the accomplished technical prowess and masterful close control of Celtic’s midfield that allowed Rodgers’ side to be competitive as they have not been on such huge occasions in European football’s most exacting tournament. Indeed, rarely in recent times can a Scottish quartet have looked the equal of a European superpower as did Callum McGregor, 
Stuart Armstrong, James 
Forrest and Scott Brown for long spells.

Yet, if searching for reasons that Rodgers’ team fell agonisingly short of the draw their courageous efforts deserved then Dembele will probably curse himself that he could do no more than send a stubbed header into the ground after Forrest hung up an inviting cross for him at the back post as Celtic first pushed for an equaliser towards the interval. He might even feel the same way about slashing an effort high and wide after Kieran Tierney had provided him with a sight of goal as they sought to restore parity once more in the closing minutes.

For that end period he was joined in attack by Griffiths and the pair almost combined for an opportunity that might have spared the loss.

Even if it didn’t and the four-year mark has now passed since Celtic Park witnessed a home Champions League 
victory – the longest spell since Celtic recorded their first in September 2001 – the performance of the men in green and white last night went some way towards rehabilitating the ground as a place where even the elite can’t take it easy. The rehabilitation of Dembele, right, as a potential £40m player will require more than what he was able to produce for the occasion. Time, and talent, is very much on his side. As might be said about a clutch of those in Celtic’s ranks on the evidence of this contest. Very much a contest of the kind craved in the company of the classiest.