Eboue can be at the heart of Hoops

Celtic manager says teenage signing is the real deal and is keen to keep star striker Dembele for as long as possible

Gulf News

Dubai

He may have only recently turned 19 and is yet to win an international cap for the Ivory Coast, but new Celtic signing Kouassi Eboue is one for now and not just the future, the Scottish champions’ manager Brendan Rodgers has said.

A deal for the defensive midfielder of around £3 million has been agreed with Russian club Krasnodar and a work permit is set to be granted for the teenager to continue his development in Scotland.

Rodgers said in Dubai yesterday that the deal would “hopefully be completed very soon” and he expected Eboue, who turned 19 in December, to instantly challenge for a place in the Celtic first eleven.

“He can come into the team now,” insisted Rodgers. “I’ve taken him in at 19 as one who can come into the first team squad. It shows he has the qualities to play.”

Eboue has travelled to Dubai with Celtic, who lead the Scottish Premiership by 19 points, for their mid-season winter training camp. The Hoops have a tie-up with Al Wasl and are using the Arabian Gulf League side’s training facilities during the break from Scottish action.

Rodgers said Eboue could sit alongside captain Scott Brown in the heart of the Hoops midfield but that he also possessed the ability to go forward as well.

“He can play in a number of those positions in midfield but predominantly he offers protection to the back four,” Rodgers said.

The former Liverpool manager added: “He plays with intensity. He’s aggressive, he presses the game well, he has good tactical understanding of the game for a young player and he is technically very strong.

“And he has big potential to improve.”

Financial bonus

Rodgers, who said he is keen for further signings this month, has instilled dramatic improvement at Celtic since taking over in the summer. The Glasgow club may have finished bottom of their Champions League group and failed to earn European football after Christmas — but having been absent from the competition since season 2013/14, qualification itself was both a footballing achievement and a huge financial bonus.

Draws both home and away against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were particularly impressive, including the thrilling 3-3 match at Celtic Park in September that saw Moussa Dembele, himself just 20, score twice.

Dembele’s 14th goal of the season, a fierce strike against rivals Rangers in the 2-1 New Year’s Eve derby win prior to the winter break, was perhaps proof why Celtic have stated West Ham United’s £20 million bid for the French forward comes nowhere near their valuation. Dembele has been linked in recent months with moves to all of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich, PSG and Real Madrid, and more, for a fee of as much as £40 million.

Record transfer fee

A move, however, will be in the future and not the present.

“I don’t need to lose a player that I don’t want to lose,” said Rodgers, who left Liverpool as manager in October, 2015.

“He’s only been in the door six months and he’s developed as we thought he would.

“For now, I’m happy with that.”

Celtic know full well Dembele, praised no less by fellow countryman, World Cup winner and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane earlier in the season, will one day earn them their record transfer fee received — but Rodgers declined to say when exactly that might be.

“You can’t put a timeline on it. He’s a big talent,” the Northern Irishman said.

“It’s great for Moussa and it’s great for Celtic that a player of that quality is on the radar of someone like a Zidane,” he added.

“It doesn’t really affect me though — for me it’s more about getting on with developing a talent.

“What he’s gone on to do hasn’t surprised us. He has a big game temperament and he will continue to show that.”

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