Ousmane Dembele could be on his way out of Barcelona during the January transfer window.
Concerns over the young Frenchman’s attitude at the Nou Camp has seen him feature sporadically for the club recently, with many of his appearances coming from the bench.
But less than 18 months after his £97million move from Borussia Dortmund, are Barca really prepared to give up on the man they signed to replace Neymar?
Dembele and Barcelona felt like a match made in heaven last year.
His speed, technical ability, eye for goal and unique competency with both feet made us all believe he would slot in perfectly next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in Barca’s attack.
Gone was the so-called ‘MSN’ of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, but perhaps ‘LSD’ – Lionel, Suarez and Dembele – would be just as potent?
Dembele moved to Spain to much fanfare.
In his sole season with BVB, he was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season and was handed the league’s Rookie of the Season award as he notched 11 goals and 20 assists in all competitions.
Further afield, he was quickly hyped up as one of the most exciting talents in Europe.
Having quickly risen from Renne’s reserve side in the French fifth division to La Liga in less than two years, there was a certain romance to his place among the game’s most expensive players.
So where has it all gone wrong?
Well, maybe joining Barcelona was a step too far, too soon.
Establishing himself in Ligue 1 and as part of Dortmund’s exciting attacking side was one thing – not to mention linking up with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman as France’s next generation of talent – but perhaps replacing someone like Neymar and being constantly compared to Messi is a bit much for someone so young.
What’s more, his problems with injury in his first season made settling into his new surroundings all the more difficult and has done little to convince the expectant Nou Camp crowd.
Dembele made his Barcelona debut against Espanyol as a late substitute on September 9 last year.
He was then handed his first league start eight days later at Getafe, but that ended after just 25 minutes with a hamstring injury. He would spend the next four months on the sidelines.
Returning in January, the youngster then featured in just four games before suffering the same injury again.
Luckily, he only missed a few weeks of action this time around and returned in February and managed the full 90 minutes in the 6-1 win over Girona.
He even played over an hour of Barca’s Champions League round of 16 second-leg match with Chelsea, scoring the second goal in a 3-0 win.
In fact, he finished last season rather strongly.
Having waved goodbye to his injury problems, Dembele shrugged off the competition for places in Barca’s attack – made all the more tricky by the January signing of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool – and slowly established himself as a regular in the line-up.
He even started to justify his hefty price-tag, particularly impressing in the 5-1 win over Villarreal in May.
But as the summer’s World Cup loomed, question marks over his attitude started to take centre-stage.
The ill-feeling that surrounded his move from Dortmund to Barcelona the summer before – which saw him essentially go on strike and refuse to train unless the German club allowed him to leave – was still very much a bitter pill to swallow for many.
France manager Didier Deschamps was particularly scathing of Dembele’s behaviour, claiming it caused problems within the national team.
“It was unacceptable behaviour,” said Deschamps in an interview with Sport Bild ahead of their World Cup quarter-final clash with Uruguay in the summer.
“Dembele’s attitude caused problems at Dortmund, for his team-mates and in the national team.
“I could not call up Dembele for the France squad because he was not training. It’s an attitude we can’t tolerate one of our players having.”
A year earlier, it seemed Dembele would be France’s main man at the World Cup with many ranking him above Mbappe in terms of raw talent and ability, as well as importance to the team’s overall style of play.
But as the Paris Saint-Germain forward steamrollered his way to securing the competition’s Best Young Player Award – with four goals, including a sensational strike against Croatia in the final – Dembele played just three minutes of the knockout rounds.
It seemed Deschamps preferred the likes of Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso in the latter stages, while Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann were simply indispensable.
It’s been a similar problem at his club this term.
Ernesto Valverde’s first-choice starting line-up seems to consist of Messi, Suarez and Coutinho in attack, with Ivan Rakitic and Arthur supporting in the midfield alongside the evergreen Sergio Busquets. Dembele, along with Rafinha and Malcom, are among those left waiting in the wings.
Worryingly, though, with Messi’s recent injury, Rafinha has been the man starting for the side in his place ahead of Dembele, playing in their last two games against Inter and Real Madrid.
Off the pitch, Dembele’s timekeeping has occasionally been under the microscope, with several senior players in Barcelona’s dressing room said to be unhappy with him being regularly late to training.
One example of this was in Barca’s recent match against Inter, with reports claiming he turned up half an hour late to the team meeting before the game.
At Barca, attitude and behaviour has everything to do with the club’s blueprint for success. Dembele will have to mend his ways if he wants to make it at the club.
But perhaps the Catalan giants will simply want to cut their losses.
To many of us, getting rid of such a talented player at such a young age – he’s still only 21, after all – seems like madness.
But in the nuclear reactor that is the greatest team in the world, competition for places is fierce and flakiness is rarely tolerated.
If a Premier League club does sign him in January, it’ll be widely considered excellent business.
Hopefully, it’ll serve as a wake up call to one of the game’s most talented young players.
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