19 Feb 19
The Scottish Sun
JACK AITCHISON holds the record as Celtic’s youngest ever player.
But Karamoko Dembele looks certain to smash that this season.
Karamoko Dembele isn’t far away from making his Celtic debut and has been training with the first-team squad
Aitchison made a dream debut for the Hoops in 2016 when he scored with his first touch against Motherwell.
That also earned him the title as the club’s youngest ever goalscorer at the age of just 16 years and 71 days.
However, with teenage sensation Dembele about to come of age, Aitchison’s proud feat could soon be broken.
Celtic fans have been drooling at the prospect of Dembele making his top team bow since he signed his first pro contract last year.
Jack Aitchison hasn’t kicked on since bursting onto the scene under Ronny Deila
And with the youngster turning 16 this Friday, he will now be eligible to play for the senior side – and that could come on Sunday, ironically against Well.
Yet while all eyes will be on Dembele, a number of other Parkhead prodigies have been quietly working their way through the ranks.
Mikey Johnson, Anthony Ralston and Ewan Henderson have all impressed Brendan Rodgers in recent times, but what about the others bubbling beneath the surface?
Here, SunSport looks at five other young Bhoys to watch out for in 2019.
Conor Hazard, right, has trained closely with Celtic’s veteran keeper Craig Gordon
The 20-year-old keeper is highly-rated by Celtic coaching staff and has already been capped by Northern Ireland.
Hazard spent the second-half of last season on loan at Falkirk, and is currently gaining more experience with Partick Thistle.
Speaking about Hazard last season, boss Rodgers said: “I think he could be a very good keeper in the future for us but he needs to get the games.”
Hazard has worked closely with Hoops and Scotland goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods, who helped improve the likes of Fraser Forster and Craig Gordon.
But with Gordon losing the first-team jersey to Scott Bain, and Dorus de Vries out of contract in the summer, Hazard may fancy his chances next season.
Armstrong Okoflex has huge potential
Celts have high hopes for talented Okoflex, who arrived from Arsenal in the summer.
The Dublin-born attacker, 16, has represented both Ireland and England at youth level.
After impressing for the second-string, Okoflex was drafted into Rodgers’ matchday squad for the recent win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Offering a glowing appraisal of the youngster, Rodgers said: “I’ve seen a lot of Armstrong and I can see that he’s a very talented boy.
“The job for Armstrong, like it is for all really talented players, is making that transition from being a talent to being a top professional.
“He’s come here with a view of hopefully doing that. He’s at a club where he’s going to get an opportunity. You can see his qualities and his talents.
“It’s not easy, he’s only a 16-year-old boy moving up from London. But he’s adapted really well which is good to see and hopefully he’ll be able to play some games at some point soon.
“That will be another nice, exciting step for him.”
McInroy is an influential midfielder
Tireless midfielder McInroy joined the first-team squad for their pre-season training camp in Austria.
Signed as a 13-year-old from the Blue Brazil Boys Club in Cowdenbeath, the teenager has been catching the eye at youth level.
McInroy has yet to make his senior debut but has been named on the bench by Rodgers over the last 12 months.
However, with the likes of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and Olivier Ntcham all ahead of the 18-year-old in the pecking order, McInroy could be farmed out on loan.
McInroy could prove to be a long-term successor to Broony, who looks certain to hang up his boots when his contract expires in 2021.
Left-back Church has had an impressive rise through the Celtic academy system.
The Scotland Under-19s starlet recently penned a new three-year deal with the Hoops.
Celts beat off interest from Premier League giants Man United to keep the 18-year-old at the club.
Daniel Church has yet to make his top team bow
Despite Kieran Tierney struggling with injury, Church has yet to be handed a chance to shine by Rodgers.
Instead, Emilio Izaguirre and Jonny Hayes have been given the nod in front of him.
As we approach the business end of the season, it’s unlikely the teenager will be pitched in unless there’s an extreme injury crisis.
With that in mind, Church will no doubt aim to make the breakthrough next season or head out on loan to gain more first-team experience.
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Irish superkid Coffey snubbed interest from England’s top clubs to sign for Celtic in 2017.
The playmaker, 17, caught the eye playing for Chelsea in a youth tournament in Holland that also featured Real Madrid.
He was subsequently offered trials by Manchester United and Man City.
Barry Coffey, right, is an exciting prospect
But a personal intervention from Hoops gaffer Rodgers convinced Coffey to commit his future to Parkhead.
Coffey explained: “Playing in Europe against top teams was a great experience but Celtic was the club where I felt most at home.”
On the influence of Rodgers, he added: “It helps that he knows me from the time I decided to join and he’d also be available to have a word.
“Most other managers of clubs in the Champions League would concentrate solely on the first-team but I’ve seen Brendan attending the training sessions of our U13 squads.
“It does motivate you that he’s going to stay there because he can see how much work you’re putting trying to get a shot at progressing.”
Talented Coffey has been impressing for Tommy McIntyre’s reserves and recently captained Republic of Ireland’s Under-18s side.
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