KARAMOKO DEMBELE is on the brink of becoming a Celtic History Bhoy as Neil Lennon prepares his players for the Scottish Cup Final against Hearts on Saturday.
The 16-year-old attacker wowed a 60,000 sell-out Parkhead crowd when he made his first team debut as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 Premiership grand finale against the same opponents on Sunday.
Dembele’s enthusiastic display after replacing Oliver Burke at the interval lit up the east end of Glasgow in a grey old afternoon.
Now he stands on the verge of getting the nod from Lennon to be included in his squad for Hampden and the encounter that could played the bring the Hoops thir ninth successive domestic honour to complete an unprecedented treble treble.
And Scotland international playmaker Callum McGregor does not believe the prospect of gatecrashing the big-time will faze the teenager one little bit.
Dembele is gearing up for his second appearance in back-to-back showpiece occasions after featuring in the eight-in-w-row title party last week.
John Fleck set the record when he came on as a substitute for Walter Smith’s Ibrox side against Queen of the South in the 2008 Scottish Cup Final at the age of 16 years, 274 days.
Dembele will be 181 days younger on Saturday and is confidently poised to stride into club folklore.
McGregor, who is searching for his 10th major honour, insisted the club have a responsibility to nurture the much-hyped youngster and revealed a last-minute pep talk before he took his bow against the Tynecastle outfit with the score standing at 1-1.
WONDER BHOY…Karamoko Dembele prepares to take on Hearts’ Joe Shaugnessy.
And he reckons lessons will be learned from failed so-called wonderkid Islam Feruz who disappeared from view after walking out on the Parkhead men for Chelsea at just 15.
After several loans to other clubs, including Hibs, the Scotland Under-21 midfielder is without a club and his future is bleak.
Dembele agreed a two-year deal when he turned 16 earlier this season and his team-mates are backing him to cope with the pressure and new-found recognition.
McGregor, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “If Karamoko was to get on at the weekend it would be an amazing achievement.
“Could he handle it? He certainly seems like nothing fazes him. As soon as he came into first-team training he looked comfortable and isn’t overawed by the players which you might expect from young kids.
“At such a young age, to come on and play with the maturity he did against Hearts was great. You can see his football brain working before the ball even comes to him.
“It’s a massive talent to have at such a young age. He’s been brilliant and we’ve got a good group and the lads have helped him settle in.
“A lot of us have made that step, so we know how it feels and it’s important when the young ones come in that we make them feel comfortable.
“The management of the club might look at the situation with Islam Feruz and learn from how they handled that, but Karamoko is undoubtedly a top talent and ultimately people will be looking and talking about him. But you just want to play football at that age and he’ll get a lot more game-time at Celtic at an earlier age which will help him develop.
ON THE RUN…Dembele takes it all in his stride.
“You could see Karamoko’s talent at the weekend. At 16, to come on and play like that shows you’re a top talent and he’s got the mentality to handle everything.
“But it’s important we manage him properly and everyone doesn’t get carried away and expect him to be in the team every week.
“He’s still a young kid and he has to learn and grow and it’s our job as senior players and a club to look after him, mentor him to get the best out of him.”
McGregor, with Lennon preparing for the Cup Final, started last week’s game on the substitutes’ bench, too, which allowed him to pass on some last-minute advice before Dembele made his first appearance in front of the Celtic support.
The 25-year-old Glaswegian continued: “We were walking out and the sports scientist said it would be one of us three coming on. I just said to him: ‘You’ll be all right, son’ and not to worry.
“When it was him who went on, I gave him a few words and tried to help him calm any nerves. You could see when he came on he was excellent.
“Even if one of those words helped him settle then it was worth it. For us, it’s about trying to pass on that experience to such a good talent. If he can take it on and add it to his game then perfect.”
Dembele was born in London, but moved to Glasgow with the family when he was one year old. He has played at Scotland youth level, but has also captained the England Under-16s. He is also qualified to play for the Ivory Coast, the country of his parents.
McGregor would be delighted if the Wonder Bhoy chose the Scots for his long-term international future, but added: “He’s got a bit of a choice to make.
“Obviously, we’d love him to play for Scotland. But it’ll be his decision with his people who he sits down and speaks with.”