Dembele has endured a lot and now his performances on the pitch speak for him.
Ousmane Dembele was born to a Malian father and a half Senegalese mother 25 years ago. In his early adolescent years, Dembele discovered his natural talent for football.
At the reserve team of Rennes as far back as 2014, Dembele began to take gentle but sure steps in his footballing career. A year later, he was making his dream debut for the Rennes first team in Ligue 1. And ever since then, the Frenchman has excelled in the world and never looked back.
Things happened very fast
Chronologically, Dembele moved from Rennes to Dortmund, and then to FC Barcelona where he was tipped by many to do greater things. But his first season in Spain did not go according to plan. His first season was alarmingly fraught with soul-crushing injuries. The very first of such injuries came against Getafe while the 2017/18 campaign was at its embryonic stage.
As days passed and weeks came and months went, Dembele’s purchase price of 105m plus additional add-ons began to seem a bit ridiculous while he lay on the hospital bed nursing wounds. This, after all, was a man acquired by the Barca hierarchy to fill Neymar’s shoes. And yet when it came to the crunch, when inspiration and magic from both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez dried up, Dembele wasn’t there.
There came a time Dembele had no place in Barça’s starting XI. And so while his close pal Kylian Mbappe was fighting for his place as the greatest player on the planet, Dembele was fighting for a place in Barça’s starting lineup; same earth, different worlds.
In spite of all these recurring injuries, Dembele has enjoyed quite a number of high points in his Barcelona career. That thunderous strike against Chelsea in the Champions League back in 2018 was premium content. That absurd sprint from deep in his half past a forest of Tottenham bodies to eventually squeeze in a shot was public display of witchcraft. There was that winner against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup in 2018 as well. And occasionally, momentarily, Dembele has exhibited flashes of his inner genius.
What could have been had Dembele scored Barca’s fourth goal of the night in that Champions League semi-final game against Liverpool in 2019? What could have been had injuries not lay its poisonous hands on the Frenchman? Maybe FC Barcelona would have bagged their 6th Champions League title by now. Maybe instead of being just one of the pivotal players in Xavi’s current side, Dembele might actually have been spearheading this new crew of players. Well, Maybe!
Resurrection Under Xavi
But these days things are different, grace has found him. Injuries which were once the thieves of Dembele’s joy have been reduced to the barest minimum. Bit by bit, Dembele is rediscovering his natural gifts. Under Xavi, the 25-year-old is playing his best football yet. This much was evident from the second half of last season in which Dembele seemed like a new creation, reborn and renewed.
This season his fine form has been as clear as day for all to see. In the past, his decision making in the final third let him down on so many occasions. Now that’s not the case. His dribbles now are cleaner and more appropriate. Dembele’s movement with the ball at feet is a ton better than before. His acceleration and speed are there, his quick feet a delight.
Ousmane Dembele has survived damning injuries. He’s survived the difficult moments where his talents have been questioned. He’s survived the days of fines for indiscipline and late training appearances. Then there was the matter of his contract extension during the off-season. Was Dembele’s agent acting in his best interests, or was he purely a greedy, money-loving mercenary?
For Barça fans, Dembele has been both easy and difficult to love. When the Camp Nou crowds audibly whistled him last February, they were registering their displeasure of him and his agent and his contract extension antics. But after signing on the dotted line in June and displaying his best form yet, the Barça fanbase now watch Dembele with kind eyes, admiring and adoring him just like old times.
Prepared for the big stages?
On Tuesday night against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League, the winger produced yet another display worthy of praise. As he marched towards the bench in the 75th minute for Depay, the applause rose to a crescendo. Two assists and a splendid exhibition are the kind of things Dembele is capable of. Alongside Lewandowski and Raphinha in Barça’s three-man attack, bigger things could be won. Dembele has it in him, he could become instrumental for Barça this season. Already this term, his performances have shown the time for serious business has finally arrived.