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Celtic looking to French connection against Astana

Glasgow (AFP) – Olivier Ntcham is aiming to emulate Moussa Dembele by becoming the latest French import to make an impact at Celtic.

The 21-year-old midfielder followed in the footsteps of his under-21 international team-mate as he made a £4.5 million ($5.8 million) move from Manchester City to the Scottish champions in the summer.

The firm friends’ fledgling careers have followed similar paths since the pair from the suburbs of Paris met when they turned out together for the France under-16 side. 

While Dembele’s arrival in Glasgow came via a spell at English second-tier Championship side Fulham, Ntcham started out kicking a ball about the streets of Longjumeau — a commune in the southern suburbs of the French capital — before turning out for Le Havre’s under-23 side.

A move to English giants City materialised, but Ntcham failed to break his way into the first team and spent the last two seasons out on loan to Italian side Genoa.

His impressive displays in Serie A caught the eye of Hoops manager Brendan Rodgers, who persuaded him to make the move to Glasgow — with a little help from Dembele.

“Moussa told me the club was good, it’s big fun here,” Ntcham revealed.

“I was 16, maybe even before, 14, when we first played together for the French national team. We always stay together.”

Dembele had a dream debut season in Scotland. The striker bagged 32 goals — including a hat-trick against Old Firm rivals Rangers and a trio of Champions League goals — as he was an integral part of the Celtic side that completed an unbeaten season on the way to collecting a domestic treble.

And Ntcham, who watched as his friend’s impressive form saw him linked with a number of top clubs across Europe, revealed it was the lure of silverware and the chance to test himself in the Champions League that led him to Parkhead.

“It’s a nice feeling to be here at Celtic and I want to win everything at Celtic as I have never won a trophy before,” the 21-year-old said.

“I’m most looking forward to the derby and playing in the Champions League. Not every club gets to play in this competition, so I’m happy to have the chance to play there with Celtic.”

The pressure of being Celtic’s most expensive signing of the summer hasn’t hindered Ntcham.

The France under-21 star has enjoyed a good start to his Celtic career with the midfielder catching the eye as he grabbed his first goal for the club in their 1-0 win at Glasgow rivals Partick Thistle last Friday.

The French playmaker’s impressive performance against Thistle could not have been more timely, with the Scottish champions preparing to host Astana at Celtic Park on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tie.

Ntcham admits he is desperate to help steer the Hoops past the side from Kazakhstan to book their place in the lucrative group stage of Europe’s elite competition for a second consecutive year and says missing out is almost unthinkable.

“Do Celtic belong in the Champions League? Yes, they do. If Celtic don’t go into the Champions League, it will be a strange feeling,” the midfielder, whose friend Dembele will miss out on Wednesday through injury, said.

“I hope to play and I hope we are going to do well.

“It’s very important to play in the Champions League but if I don’t play it’s not bad. The most important thing is the team.”

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