Ousmane Dembele’s stay at Barcelona has been a real roller coaster ride so far. The Frenchman joined the Catalan giant two years ago from Borussia Dortmund, and he was coming off a brilliant stint with the German side.
Despite him being a youngster in development back then, he was easily one of their most influential players in the current squad. In a total of 50 games, the young forward scored ten goals and assisted a further 22. While those numbers are not nearly as stratospheric as his future price tag would suggest, one crucial thing to note is that he was still just 20 years old when he entered his final campaign with Dortmund.
It’s difficult to find players of such age scoring and assisting as regularly as Dembele has done, and in the top-flight no less. The exception being, of course, his French compatriot, Kylian Mbappe. But Paris Saint-Germain’s talisman is a story for a different time.
Going back to Dembele, though, it was only a matter of time before someone would come knocking on the door of the German team, and that someone ended up being Barcelona themselves. Naturally, suitors came and went but the Catalans’ interest was by far the biggest and it landed them the coveted signature in the end.
But it was difficult – the player went on strike, missed training sessions and was “missing in action”, hiding from the club and the media. Needless to say, it was a soap opera until the official announcement finally arrived from Barcelona and the deal was done. Dembele would become Barcelona’s second most expensive signing in history – first until Philippe Coutinho joined a couple of months later.
And with that huge price tag on his head and quite the reputation from his time at Borussia Dortmund, he was very much expected to hit the ground running and show his worth immediately. But, as fate would have it, his beginnings were much more difficult than the player and the club would have wished for.
Just weeks into his stint with the Blaugrana, he picked up an injury that would sideline him for a total of 106 days, meaning he would miss 20 games of his maiden season with his new club. Catastrophe struck and suddenly Barcelona were desperate without Neymar, who left just prior to Dembele’s acquisition, and now without their prized replacement. But it was only the beginning.
The Frenchman returned to full fitness months later only to pick up another problematic injury in January of the following year, this time to be sidelined for seven games. At this point, it was starting to become pretty clear – the Frenchman was not at the required fitness level and it showed.
The 2018/19 season continued mostly in the same vein. Two injuries were collected in a relatively short space of time and a total of eight games were missed in the second part of the campaign.
More importantly, Dembele missed some crucial final games that saw Barcelona plunge into despair, going from a perfect season to a disappointing one in two games: the debacle at Anfield and the defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final. Both games were missed by Dembele and both ended in catastrophe.
At this point, doubts started to rise both among the fans and, more importantly, in the club’s upper hierarchy with some reports even claiming he was to be included in the alleged Neymar deal. Should the Frenchman be sold? Should Barcelona cut their losses and face the harsh reality of another failed transfer? It may be tough but the answer to both of these questions should be a resounding no and here’s why.
The first reason is his renowned determination. Dembele was among the very first players who came back to training after their holidays, cutting his time off short in order to arrive at pre-season at his absolute best. This shows that he’s slowly maturing and is ready to take on more responsibility for his own development.
The Dembele of the past couple of years would not have been back in training so soon. That Dembele was staying up late playing video games, partying with friends and lacking professionalism.
And now, the first signs of improvement were already there in pre-season of 2019. Dembele was among the ones who impressed in the final games against Napoli, bagging a goal and an assist in the process.
When he’s fit and motivated, he is without a doubt an incredible player with huge potential. Despite his limited game time, he already scored 18 goals and assisted 17 in the 68 games he played in Blaugrana colours so far. On top of that, he is valuable because he offers versatility due to his comfort playing with both feet.
At Barcelona, he played 35 games as the right-winger and 26 on the opposite side, offering flexibility to Ernesto Valverde, which is invaluable to the team as a whole.
All of this makes him a player who’s worth betting on in the future, especially since he is showing signs of improvement. He’s been put on a special diet and training regiments to decrease the chances of getting injured and his mind seems to be set on success. That combined with his natural talent and young age suggest Barcelona would be foolish to let him go.
Being in Catalonia for two years now, it’s understandable that the club might be getting impatient with their highly-valued asset but both Lionel Messi and Neymar, two extremely successful Barcelona players, also had rough patches at the very beginning of their La Liga careers.
Injuries are a big concern and seem to be preventing Dembele from living up to his potential but with improved determination and responsibility, both on and off the pitch, the Frenchman is still very much set to take the stage by storm in the not too distant future.
All he needs is a bit more belief. It will be worth it.