In a very competitive field Ousmane Dembele is looking like the most expensive transfer market mistake in Barcelona’s history.
Marca totted up money spent on subsequently underperforming attacking players since 2015 on Wednesday and came up with the jaw-dropping figure of €482m (£433m) paid out for Philippe Coutinho, Gerard Deulofeu, Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan, Martin Braithwaite, Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Prince Boateng, Malcom and Dembele.
At £96.8m with an additional £35m in add-on payments Dembele is the second most expensive after Coutinho.
Ousmane Dembele (R) signed with Barcelona from Borussia Dortmund for a fee of £96.8m
However his time at the club has been disastrous and he’s only played eight full games
His wages are around €12m (£11m) and for all that, he has so far played eight full 90-minute games in two-and-a-half seasons. Money per match, even if we take the smaller £96.8m initial fee figure, that’s £12.1m for every full game so far. If we use the 74 games he has participated in it’s still more than a million a game. It’s a horrendous return.
And yet for all that it’s also true that he has only just turned 23. And that when he is physically and mentally right, he can be sensational to watch and unplayable for opponents.
Barcelona now seem resigned to loaning him out next season in the hope that game time will restore confidence and increase his market value. There have also been reports he could be sold altogether for as little as £37m. It could also save his career if someone gambles in him and Barcelona lower their demands to allow the gamble to happen.
Maybe it will not be Manchester City or Liverpool who have both been linked in the past – at this stage Dembele doesn’t seem to have that wide-awake intensity, concentration and application a Jurgen Klopp or a Pep Guardiola team demands?
But he has speed and two-footedness that cannot be coached. And outside the tactical straight-jacket that Barcelona can sometimes seem for certain players, he could thrive elsewhere.
Those eight full games have cost Barcelona an eye-watering £12.1m each in transfer fee alone
The Frenchman has suffered bad luck with injuries and missed time with a hamstring tear
Ernesto Valverde used to say in reference to Dembele: ‘Everyone loses the ball, the question is what you do after you lose it.’ It’s now more a case of everyone’s career can go astray. What matters it what you do to get back on course.
His natural talent and his age means that there will still be someone somewhere who believes he can save Dembele’s career. It might have to be a Brendan Rodgers at Leicester instead of Guardiola at City, and Barcelona would have to accept Leicester money and not City money when it came to the loan fee. They might have to pay a chunk of his wages too but at least it would give their asset a proper chance to reboot his career.
Plenty of people have had faith in Dembele in the past. Valverde wanted him signed in August 2017 because he felt Neymar’s departure left Barcelona without a forward who could put opposition defences on the back foot.
Team-mate Luis Suarez liked what he saw at first when Dembele came on as a substitute in early September 2017 and assisted a Suarez goal with a quick pass in 5-0 win over Espanyol.
He arrived at the Nou Camp from Dortmund as one of the hottest young stars in Europe
OUSMANE DEMBELE THIS SEASON
2019-20 LaLiga appearances: 5
Minutes played: 356
Champions League appearances: 4
Minutes played: 136
Goals in all competitions: 1
Injuries and accusations of unprofessionalism have been a huge problem since.
By the end of that month he was injured having damaged a tendon and he was out for 106 days missing 20 matches.
He returned in the January but within two weeks was injured again missing another seven games.
The club looked for reasons behind the physical problems. Fairly or unfairly he was labelled unprofessional. There were reports the club had sent him a personal chef to stop him eating junk food at home while he was injured. He had sent the cook packing and was generally unresponsive in terms of taking greater care of his diet and lifestyle.
He finished that first season with four goals in 24 games. There were high hopes that, having sorted his hamstring problems, the second season would be the one in which he really landed at the club. But he only competed five full 90 minutes in his 42 games.
And after Dembele’s first game in this his third season he complained of a twinge in his hamstring that the club wanted to scan the following morning but Dembele said he would only arrive for the check up if the discomfort persisted.
He never showed for the scan instead making the most of two days off granted the squad by flying abroad.
Reports suggest that Dembele is being offered to clubs on the cheap – for as little as £35m
He then trained on the Monday without complaining but he felt discomfort in one of the passing drills and after the scan – which the club feel should have taken place several days before – a tear in the hamstring was confirmed and five weeks of rest prescribed.
When he came back this time there was a new coach in charge. Quique Setien hailed him as ‘like a new signing’ when asked about the prospect of him returning but no sooner was he back than he was injured again and his third season over.
Inuries were not a problem at Dortmund so there is hope that his problems are not chronic and could be eased by a move as they were for Arjen Robben – the glass man at Real Madrid who rarely got injured at Bayern Munich.
Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester could be type of club to take chance on Dembele, but at cut price
Attitude and levels of professionalism change with time too. He perhaps needs patience and personal guidance – neither commodities found in excess at the world’s biggest clubs.
The only consolation for Barcelona after Dembele’s last injury was that it meant Borussia Dortmund would no longer be asking for the €5m they were due in variables for the winger reaching 75 games.
He is stuck on 74 matches. Will he ever get to his three-quarter century? It will not matter if he finds his feet elsewhere and his brutal raw talent doesn’t go to waste.