KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Barcelona are splashing €140m – two-thirds – of their Neymar cash on Ousmane Dembele, a precociously gifted 20-year-old. This is a transfer deal far more astonishing than the Brazilian’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain a fortnight ago.
Dembele’s potential was evident last season with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Bundesliga. In Dembele and Kylin Mbappe, about to quit Monaco for PSG for a similar nine-figure sum, France boasts the two most coveted young footballers in world football.
But a world of difference exists between the Neymar mega-move and the transfers of the two French forwards. Both PSG, with Mbappe, and Barcelona with Dembele, are gambling on familar potential; the world’s lower divisions are stocked by players with unrealised bright futures behind them.
No blame belongs to Dortmund. They, like Monaco, are established as an elite-level feeder club and make the most of it.
Barcelona had money to spend and desperate needs to placate their fans, ease their wounded pride and beat the fast-approaching transfer deadline.
Also, president Josep Maria Bartomeu was finding his club’s status not as irresistible as he had thought: Liverpool refused to deal over Philippe Coutinho and Nice are playing hardball over Jean-Michael Seri.
Hence’s Dortmund delight in realising a €125m profit on the youngster they signed only a year ago from Rennes for whose fifth division reserve team he was performing only one year further back.
Nor have Dembele and his advisers ever evinced second thoughts. As soon as the name ‘Barcelona’ was whispered after Dortmund’s shootout defeat by Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup on August 5 he went missing.
He will shortly reappear in Barcelona which he had already indicated as his dream destination in an interview in February last year with beIN Sports. He will then become the world’s second or third most expensive player, depending on how long it takes PSG and Monaco to agree the €150m Mbappe deal.
The €100m Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba is small change by comparison.
The Dembele story is easily told because he is, after all, only 20. At this age Neymar had won the Copa Libertadores, the Recopa Sudamericana, three Paulista state titles plus the Copa Brasil, had undertaken trials with Barcelona and Real Madrid and was targeting the upcoming the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
Dembélé was born on May 15, near Evreux in Normandy, the son of a father from Mali and Senegal/ Mauritanian mother. He started playing football for suburban AM Madeleine and then ALM Evreux who merged into Evreux FC,
Small even for his age then, he switched to futsal where his skills caught the attention of Rennes. The coaches doubted his potential until other clubs showed an interest and then not only was he brought into their academy but a local home was found for his mother, brother and two sisters.
No more doubts, now. In September 2013 he made his debut for France under-17s against Ukraine. His four goals at under-17 level earned promotion to the national under-18s and a professional offer from Rennes in June 2015.
Club president René Ruello expected Dembele to show his gratitude by signing immediatey. But, in an early demonstration of a self-awareness, Dembele refused. He had offers from Red Bull Salzburg and Benfica Lisbon.
Eventually, after stomping out of a training camp in Germany, he signed a short-term contract and, a month later in November 2015 made his Ligue 1 debut as a late substitute against Angers.
Rapidly Dembele established himself in the starting line-up. His first goal came against Bordeaux and his first career hat-trick, the following March in the Breton derby against Nantes, earned a France under-21 debut against Scotland.
Dembele ended term with the Young Player of the Year award on the back of 12 goals and five assists. Rennes old boy Mikaël Silvestre compared him with the young Cristiano Ronaldo on his arrival at Manchester United in 2003.
Rennes cashed in immediately with a €15m sale of Dembele to Dortmund. He made his debut in a 2-1 Supercup defeat by Bayern and his first Bundesliga appearance against Mainz earned him he accolade of “incredible” from opposing defender Leon Balogun.
Rennes cashed in immediately with a €15m sale of Dembele to Dortmund. He made his debut in a 2-1 Supercup defeat by Bayern and his first Bundesliga appearance against Mainz.
Dortmund lost 2-1 at home but Dembele earned the accolade of “incredible” from opposing defender Leon Balogun. That accolade was the first of many on Dembele’s way to the Young Player of the Season award, earned by six goals and 12 assists in the Bundesliga.
He was equally impressive in other competitions. In the cup Dembele scored Dortmnd’s winner against Bayern in the semis and their first in the 2-1 defeat of Eintract Frankfurt in the final; in Europe Dembele scored the first of what promises to be many Champions League goals in the remarkable 8-4 tharshing of Legia Warsaw then another in the 3-2 home defeat by Monaco in the first leg of quarter-finals.
By that time he was a fixture for France. Didier Deschamps handed him a senior debut as a second-half substitute for Antoine Griezmann in a 3-1 friendly win over Italy then his first start against Ivory Coast. HIs first goal came in a 3-2 friendly win over England this past June.
Coincidentally, Mbappe provided the assist.
Mbappe and Dembele – a new Kopa and Fontaine? How much would they have been worth, by today’s prices?