Promised by many as the next big thing, Ousmane Dembélé appears to be at a crossroads in his career at the tender age of 21 years old.
Signed by Barcelona for an eye-watering £105 million from Borussia Dortmund last summer, the France international has been a visitor rather than a difference maker for the Spanish giants. Dembélé has failed to make a lasting impact so far and his off-field distractions, such as gaming, has landed him in trouble on more than one occasion with the leaders of Barça.
There is no denying that Dembélé is a generational talent, with his quick feet, dizzying runs and raw ability, but unless he hones it with discipline and improves his work ethic, there is a possibility that Barcelona might cut ties with him so early on in his career. Reports are already coming out suggesting the La Liga giants are considering allowing the Frenchman to leave as early as January.
The facts are that Dembélé has only featured in 16 appearances this season, scoring seven times and assisting on two occasions. While his overall game has been largely disappointing, he does continue to help Barça come up with late finishes that saves games – just as his most recent goal salvaged a point against Atlético Madrid.
In truth, the move to Spain with Barcelona in particular was possibly too soon in his career. He made the right decision to leave France for Dortmund, where he was excelling, but it was too short of a period for Barça to launch that type of money at him. Of course, no player is going to reject a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world, but it was always going to be a risk given how raw he was and still is.
If the reports are to be believed and Barcelona are truly open to either loaning him out or selling on a permanent transfer, Dembélé will not be short of suitors. The most obvious destination would be England, but which Premier League club will strike first?
The Premier League has a number of clubs who can not only afford the fee should Barça be inclined to sell permanently, but also his wages, which are considerable to say the least.
Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and even Arsenal would all make room to sign the France international, which puts Dembélé in a very strong position indeed.
Pep Guardiola’s City have a whole host of mercurial talents on their books and it is slightly difficult to understand where Dembélé would fit into his side; however, that has not stopped the Spanish manager before when recruiting and if Dembélé is available, the Citizens are likely to be joining the queue. It goes without saying that they are in a position to cover any proposed deal financially.
The Red Devils have been crying out for a right winger for multiple years and so this could be a blessing in disguise. With Dembélé’s nationality being French, he would settle well into the first-team with the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba by his side, along with other French-speaking players in the dressing room.
Man United find themselves off the pace so far this season and Dembélé could well provide the spark needed to reinvigorate their season and qualify for the Champions League next year. It will be a hard sell convincing him to join over other clubs who can offer immediate success, but as seen with Alexis Sánchez, money sure does go a long way to helping make a decision.
Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea would be open to the idea of the Frenchman coming to Stamford Bridge, but only if they manage to sell Willian. It was no secret that Barcelona were willing to sign the Brazilian last summer before they opted for Bordeaux’s Malcom, and so a swap deal might be on the cards if Ernesto Valverde’s team are still open to that idea.
Liverpool will probably be the most difficult sell for Dembélé due to their front three already being at an elite level with no glaring gaps. Mohamed Salah plays on the right, so there is little to no chance of the former Rennes player leapfrogging the Egyptian, while Sadio Mané is on the left and Roberto Firmino through the middle as a false nine. The Reds would possibly sell the idea as a first substitute, but for the type of money being talked about, it’s likely they’ll look elsewhere as they did with Xherdan Shaqiri.
Arsenal are the other frontrunner in landing Dembélé due to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s close relationship with the France international. Friendship does not always materialise in transfers, but there is no chance that Unai Emery would not be interested in signing him to bolster the right-hand side of Arsenal’s forward line.
Arsenal’s Director of Football, Raúl Sanllehí, used to be one of the leading members on Barcelona’s board a few years ago, and so can use that relationship to harness any potential deal for Dembélé.
While England seems the obvious choice given the money involved, Italy might not be so abstract given Juventus’ new, £88 million signing in Cristiano Ronaldo.
While the Bianconeri are unlikely to be interested given their wealth of talent within their stable, but a team like Inter might well be. A loan deal is the only feasible nature of this given Financial Fair Play is burdening the Milanese club, but if Barça prefer to only send Dembélé out for a year, then Inter might well be the perfect destination.
Napoli and Milan will be interested, but with club president Auerlio di Laurentiis favouring Edinson Cavani as their wage buster and Zlatan Ibrahimović returning to the latter, both remain unlikely destinations.
The only realistic option for Dembélé is Bayern Munich given the lack of funds elsewhere in the division. While Niko Kovac is struggling this season and a player of Dembélé’s quality could help him magnificently, Karl-Heinz Ruminegge has never been one to splash an absolute fortune on players and with a manager whose position is uncertain, it’s unlikely that tune will change.
In conclusion, they most likely outcome is that Dembélé will come to the Premier League, should he be given the green light, with Manchester United and Arsenal leading the way to land him. With his technical ability and direct approach, the French star will be an asset to either team and should add real quality where it has been lacking.