The Summer of Sagas
In the Summer of 2017, there was a lot of unrest in the Barcelona Camp. One of Barça’s best players was closing in on an unexpected exit from the club. It was Neymar Jr. The Brazilian had spent four great years at the club, forming an extraordinary trio with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. He played a crucial role in their success in the 14/15 season. Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction when he signed a contract extension with Barcelona in 2016. It wasn’t a year hence when he moved to PSG for a whopping 222 million euros.
Not only did this break what was arguably the most celebrated attacking trio ever but also left a bitter taste among fans and players alike. The move on its own was shocking, and the way it was carried out by Neymar and his entourage was unprofessional. The transfer of Neymar had broken a potent attacking brigade. Barcelona had to think quickly to cover the gaping hole present on the left-wing. The club signed Gerard Deulofeu (a La Masia graduate ) and a promising star from Borussia Dortmund, Ousmane Dembele. Dembele had shown great promise at Dortmund. He was a good dribbler and scored a decent number of goals. He made 50 appearances for the black and yellows and was directly involved in 32 goals. All signs indicated big things to come from the 21-year-old (then).
A Very Complicated Transfer
After Neymar Jr had completed his move, there was a lot of turmoil among the board. Ousmane Dembele came out as one of the top targets to replace the Brazilian winger. With a massive amount of money available to sign players, Barcelona made initial contact with Dortmund. The response from Dortmund was clear and direct,” Dembele, not for sale “. Barcelona didn’t take no for an answer and continued pursuing the player. Dembele was keen to make his move to the Camp Nou. Barcelona reached an agreement with the French youngster. The Board (Barcelona ) then instructed the winger to state his intent publicly. Dortmund still didn’t budge. The winger then started missing training and avoiding BVB altogether. This was also performed on the Barca Board’s instruction. These actions forced Dortmund’s hand.
Dortmund finally agreed to let Dembele go for a massive fee of 105 million euros (+40 million add ons). This transfer ruined Barça’s reputation among other clubs and pundits. But the fans were excited as Dembele was pegged to be the next big thing.
Why fans were excited?
Dembele has impressed a lot of scouts and teams from a very young age. He spent the majority of his boyhood days at Rennes. In 2016 he took the big spent of moving to Borussia Dortmund, where he impressed everyone. When he arrived at Barça, fans were excited as Dembele had shown a lot of promise. He was excellent on the ball, great with both his feet, very fast, could play in numerous positions, and, most importantly, incredibly creative.
He wasn’t perfect, though. He was complacent at times, not great at making decisions in the final third, and had a knack of straying out of position. There were a few limitations to his game, but fans were well aware that this was a young player who would surely Develop into something amazing with the help of Messi and Suarez.
Dembele’s Barca career has been mediocre. Injuries have hurdled him. In the three years, Dembele has been at Barca he has missed 603 days(86 games )of football through injury. He has had several hamstring and calf problems. Barça fans have also started to grow impatient. There is a sense that he lacks professionalism and the attitude required to succeed at Barca. His lifestyle choices have also been questioned.
When he has played, he has either stunned the world with brilliant performances (against Real Madrid in the 18/19 season) or had less to no impact on the game. He has made 74 appearances for Barcelona, scoring 19 goals and having 17 assists. These stats are of a decent player but don’t justify the hundred million euros spent on him. The most significant setback and concern for Culés is his injury record.
What were the causes of injuries?
Dembele is a great player and is still young. He has shown on several occasions that he can be the man to hold the fort in the left-wing. But his fitness and physical condition are always going to be a concern. Whenever he plays, there is a fear that he might get injured. This has to change and has to change soon. He is scheduled to return towards the end of August. The medical team needs to ensure that he’s at top fitness when he does return. He must not be rushed into action under any circumstances.
The medical team at Barca has been under a lot of scrutinies. They have made several mistakes that have aggravated player’s injuries. The most recent case is that of Frenkie De Jong. The Dutchman recently called out the medical team for the improper examination of his recent injury. Many players have chosen to avoid using the medical services at Barça and seek help from outside. Dembele is one of these players. Many of Dembele’s injuries can be a direct result of a miserable medical team, where he has been rushed into games without proper recovery.
Some of the blame can be put on the coaching staff of the last two seasons. The lack of proper training under Ernesto Valverde has also had its toll on Dembele. Several players who left Barcelona have come out and said that training sessions under Valverde used to be very short (40-50 mins ). This is not nearly adequate for the younger players in the team. This was the reason tons of players became injury prone under Valverde.
The future of Dembele
Dembele is still 23 and is extremely talented. If he can stay fit, he can be a big part of Setién’s team in the seasons to come.
With the likes of Messi, Suarez and Griezmann ahead of him breaking into the team is going to be very hard. With the vast improvement shown by Ansu Fati and the potential introduction of Francisco Trincao, the chances he receives will probably be scattered and more distributed. His fitness still has a lot of question marks. Barça, in the next season, will have several options in the wings. If Dembele is not consistent, he will quickly lose his place to the other players.
His ages and abilities are his greatest strengths. Barça has looked flat on many occasions where there was a lack of width and dynamism in the front line. His pace and skill on the ball are second to none at Barça. He has also shown excellent work rate. He can be instrumental in beating teams that defend in closed lines.
What will happen to Dembele?
The influence of Messi and Suarez at Barça is undoubtedly reducing. This gives Dembele and big chance to secure his long term future at the club. But he has to shift potential into consistent performance. With the never-ending Neymar rumours, he has to perform well to show the club that he is the man for the job. I can’t say it enough; he has to stay fit.
Multiple clubs are looking for Dembele’s services, including Chelsea, Juventus, and Liverpool. There is no doubt about the quality that he possesses. The future, whether at Barca or elsewhere, is still very bright. The 20/21 season will be integral for his career at Barca.
A lot of sources, including the players themselves, have seen a drastic improvement in his work ethic. He is being meticulous with his recovery and is taking his work very seriously. This is very optimistic. He was devastated after his latest hamstring injury and is striving to get back to his best fitness. He is scheduled to return on August-end. The medical staff needs to ensure a smooth transition to match fitness with no further setbacks. The signs this time seem a lot more positive, and as culés, we can expect some good things from Dembele. Wherever he goes, one can be sure he will be a big part of the team’s success in the years to come.
Whether he will be at Barça or elsewhere? Only time will tell!
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