Celtic's Moussa Dembele must ignore lure of big clubs if he wants to develop
Sources have told ESPN FC that Moussa Dembele is being scouted by some of the Premier League's elite clubs, including Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, but is the time right for the Celtic striker to move on?
Dembele is certainly keeping his feet on the ground after a stellar start to life in Scotland which has seen him score seven goals in 12 games -- including a hat trick against Manchester City in the Champions League -- but after failing to break through at Paris Saint-Germain and being relegated with Fulham, that is no surprise.
"Apart from [Adrien] Rabiot and now [Presnel] Kimpembe, who starts to play, which players play?" he told L'Equipe recently, when asked about the prospect of returning to PSG. "I saw that the new coach [Unai Emery] is integrating youth. Playing in preseason matches, that's good, but being integrated in league games, that's different. I do not see a player of my generation playing regularly. I reached 100 professional games quickly. I have no regrets."
When a 16-year-old Dembele left PSG in 2012, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi were in the first team, so it is understandable that he saw few chances of regular football. But his failure to cement a first-team place at Fulham during his four years at the club is more telling.
Dembele's talent was never in question -- a pure goal scorer with great touch and a good turn of pace, the Frenchman was always one of the most highly-rated players at the Fulham academy. He netted a stunning hat trick for the club's incredibly successful under-18 side to defend their Premier League crown in 2013, but questions over his fitness and commitment to the cause were regular.
Playing in a team alongside such young talents as Patrick Roberts, Emerson Hyndman and Cauley Woodrow, Dembele was a star up front and even started in the Premier League defeat to Everton in March 2014, but the club were relegated at the end of the season and he initially failed to warm to life in the Championship.
He did not score a single league goal in 2014-15, as he seemed to struggle with the more physical demands of the Championship. Yet showed his class the following season with 17 goals in 46 starts across all competitions.
Rather than continue and build on his first real season of success in the Fulham first team, however, he chose not to renew his contract and he left on a free transfer in the summer of 2016.
Initially linked with Tottenham, Dembele chose the Scottish Premier League for his next step and revealed: "It's a massive thing to come to this club and to be Brendan Rodgers' first signing is something unreal for me. The manager told me that Celtic is a good team for me. When I come here I will have game-time but I have to show that I can stay in the team, and it's a good way for me to progress here with a massive stadium and the fans and the city."
Joining Roberts -- who is playing at Celtic Park on loan from Manchester City after making his own exit from Fulham for around £12 million in 2015 -- Dembele is clearly aware of the need to play regularly at this stage of his career.
As such, a move away now -- especially to a club like Manchester United or Arsenal where he would be sitting on the bench behind the likes of Zlatan (again), Marcus Rashford, Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez -- would be foolish.
Atletico's style of play under Diego Simeone would certainly not fit for a player who has struggled to convince of his workrate in the past, while the prospect of trying to knock Antoine Griezmann out of the team is not something a 20-year-old would relish.
Southampton may be a better option, but it's possible that Dembele would view such a move as a step backwards. Celtic, in the Champions League and flying the league, are a much better club for him to continue his development in the short-term. In a few years' time, the striker can reassess his options, but playing time should come first right now.
Jon is a senior editor of ESPN FC, based in London.