It has been 15 months since Barcelona shelled out an initial €105m to bring talented French forward Ousmane Dembele to the Camp Nou. Should all the ‘attainable clauses’ be met, the Catalan giants will pay Borussia Dortmund a further €35m.
The 21-year-old hit the equalising goal for Barca at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, just as he struck the decisive winning goals at Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad earlier in the campaign. Yet watch closely and he did not celebrate with his teammates. In fact, he barely celebrated, jogging back to the halfway line.
In part, this is because his side were chasing a winning goal – which duly arrived three minutes later through Luis Suarez. But the isolation and muted celebrations appear to sum up Dembele at the club. Not on the same page as his teammates, either on a personal or playing level. His performances are often questionable, yet he can deliver moments which none of his teammates can.
There have been various reports emerging from Catalan-based media that Dembele lacks discipline off the pitch. He has reportedly arrived late to training sessions, failed to follow dietary advice and refused services offered by the club. This remains speculation but would explain his below-par displays and frequent isolation from first-team duty.
Saturday’s strike was Dembele’s tenth for Barca and it should be remembered that he has endured terrible luck with injuries. A thigh muscle rupture kept him out for four months last term before a subsequent hamstring injury sidelined him for another month. Such injuries, coupled with a change of environment and expectation, can lead to poor decision making.
Dembele is only 21 and his talent is clearly extraordinary. A lack of consistency coupled with off-field issues is normal for players of this age and there should be no genuine concerns that this will present a long-term issue. He has started ten matches this season and is beginning to settle into a period of normality and regular football, the rest should follow suit.
Perhaps he is the players Barca need – one that does not follow the script to the letter and can punish opponents when least expected. Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi are now both aged 31 and the inevitability of their declining performance level places even greater importance upon Dembele’s development.
It is crucial now for Barcelona to manage his situation delicately, understanding that adapting to his third club, third country, third culture and third language in four years may present issues for a 21-year-old, who has dealt with injury complications. If Barca show patience and nurture him correctly, they will have a superstar on their hands.
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