Karamoko Kader Dembele
Karamoko Kader Dembele is just 21 years old. @karamoko via Instagram

In March, England's League One leaders Portsmouth played mid-table Blackpool, listed 20 points behind them.

Before halftime, former Scotland striker Jordan Rhodes was dismissed and the opposition's hopes of winning halfway through a 17-game unbeaten run that would name them champions increased.

The game ended in a 0-0 draw against all odds under Blackpool Manager Neil Critchley. One teenage midfielder in particular, who was considered too little and fragile to play at a high level in Scottish football, saved the game with his tackles, blocks and relentless dribbling.

"When we went down to 10 men in the Portsmouth game, we played 3-5-1, and Kaddy was one of the three midfielders," Critchley told Mail Sport. "Which, if you'd said to anyone — or to Kaddy himself, prior to coming to us — that we'd be up against top-of-the-league Portsmouth with 10 men and he'd be there in central midfield, spending most of the game without the ball... he wouldn't have believed it. But he did that for us and did it unbelievably well — back in his own penalty area, tackling and making clearances."

"He showed another side to his game and, again, that shows you the type of person that he is: he just wants to be a good team player," Critchley added.

The mysterious "Kaddy" is also known as former Celtic star Karamoko Kader Dembele.

Dembele made his Parkhead Under-20s debut less than eight years ago, breaking the internet as a 13-year-old star. The world saw him wearing a baggy shirt and bright smile as he waited to be substituted into Tommy McIntyre's development squad's victorious game against Cappielow.

Dembele was quick, bright, skilled and had an interesting career journey, having developed his talents in Govan, Scotland, after moving there from London with his family as a child.

Dembele was destined to be a Celtic and Scottish hero for years to come.

Within two years, Dembele had signed a Nike sponsorship contract, gained a staggering amount of Instagram followers, moved from Scotland's youth divisions to England's, where he played alongside Jude Bellingham, and eventually made his Celtic debut at 16.

However, the excitement soon faded.

Brendan Rodgers, Neil Lennon, and Ange Postecoglou all praised the promising midfielder when different managerial eras united, but they rarely played him.

Injuries, including a pre-season ankle fracture in Wales, only lowered Dembele's chances of getting game time.

Unfortunately, Dembele's Celtic career ended in the summer of 2022. The career cease was conducted in such a low-key way, that some fans missed it.

Fans were too excited about Postecoglou's first title win to recognise that the youngster, who was previously considered the club's future, had left.

Dembele then joined Brest in the French Premier League but he only made 18 appearances without scoring before being sold in August. However, before any contract had been signed, Critchley intervened.

"I'd been aware of him from his younger days, coming on the scene at Celtic, and from his youth days with both Scotland and England," the former QPR manager, who had just taken over Blackpool in his second stint, said. "But our recruitment team and our sporting director, David Downes, were well aware also. So, it was a combination of those factors and, when we spoke to him, we were really impressed. He came across brilliantly well."

Dembele's time at Blackpool FC has come to an end.

There was one problem: Dembele had never played 90 minutes as a professional and his early weeks at Bloomfield Road were spent mainly on the bench.

The Seasiders' new No11 made his starter and assist debuts in a loss to Derby County and scored his first goal at Charlton just days later.

Blackpool Gazette Journalist Amos Wynn, said: "I think Blackpool were trying to figure out what to do with him and how best to fit him into the system at that point, as he was unlike any other player at the club."

"The fans saw the best of him in the second half of the campaign, but the signs were there from day one. In his early games, you'd be forgiven for thinking his size could hinder him and allow him to be bullied, but the way he adapted to the physicality of League One was really impressive. While he was still fouled more than other players on the pitch, he was able to battle well and actually use his size to his advantage," Wynn explained.

After Christmas, Dembele became a key player in Blackpool's Championship survival, scoring nine goals and providing 14 assists in every match.

At Critchley's end-of-season awards in April, the 21-year-old Glaswegian won three Player of the Year awards and told the audience, "I'll remember my time here for the rest of my life."

While Blackpool missed the playoffs after a 3-2 loss to Reading on the final day, Wynn said that Dembele's efforts kept them in the running.

According to Wynn: "Without him, and the goals from his fellow loanee Jordan Rhodes, the play-offs would have been well out of reach... There are a number of good players in the Blackpool squad, but no one can do what Dembele did. The fans absolutely adored him and chanted his name to ABBA's Voulez-Vous."

With much game time under his belt, Dembele was able to squash most of his critics' claims with his experience playing in a number of first-team games in a notoriously tough league.

Critchley also refuted the claims, arguing that Dembele made nearly 50 appearances and never missed a training session, played central midfield in a 3-5-2 for most of the season.

Critchley also said that the young midfielder had grown and filled out, but his smart game changes make his size irrelevant.

In videos posted on social media, Dembele is regularly seen receiving the ball in difficult situations and skilfully avoids any efforts to knock him off. The young midfielder also uses a set-piece that makes for several successful assists.

"He's got a unique ability to twist and turn and receive the ball under pressure, to take the ball when he's marked and eliminate defenders," said Critchley, who also directed Liverpool's academy and later assisted Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa. "He's got a low centre of gravity and can just take defenders out the game in a split second. We slightly adjusted his position during the season just to give him that freedom, because teams started putting together plans to stop him, putting men on him and things like that."

"He played off the front for us, through the middle, slightly wider, and, towards the end, as an attacking midfielder in a three-man midfield. He's fantastic to work with, because he just absolutely loves football. You'd turn around after training and he'd be on his own, dribbling, practising shooting and free-kicks, flicking the ball up, juggling... he just always wants to learn and improve," the manager added. "He was the standout performer for us, he won pretty much all of our awards."

Dembele's career is back on track, and he may even be called up to the Scotland senior squad if he decides to change his allegiance.

While this summer's Euros, set to take place in Germany, are too soon for Dembele to impress Scotland's National Team Manager Steve Clarke, the lack of speed and variety among Clarke's usual picks could change that in the months and years to come.

The former St Ninian's High student has important decisions to make at club level, as he has been linked to many English Championship clubs, including West Ham and Everton.

While Critchley appears upset that Dembele will not be back at Bloomfield Road any time soon, he is proud to have helped revive a promising career.

Critchley responded to Dembele's leave with: "Of course we'd love to keep him, but we're not daft... I'm sure he'll have lots of options and lots of suitors, and the fact he's contracted to a team in France also opens up European markets for him."

"I hope he goes on and achieves what I think he can achieve — and if that is international recognition at some point, then I do think that type of football will actually suit his game. It's definitely not out of his grasp," the manager added. "Sometimes good coaching is just about providing players with the right opportunity at the right time. And it was good timing for him, he needed an environment and a team that helped him just to play the game that he's good at. We take great pride in helping him, but it's all down to him. We'll always hold Kaddy fondly in our memories. That's for certain."