Realistically, this is the only way it was going to end. After a dramatic courting, Barcelona have finally pried one of football’s brightest young talents from Borussia Dortmund, just one year after his €15 million move from Stade Rennais. While the German club will miss the effervescence and creativity of the young French star, surely respected club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and Sporting Director Michael Zorc won’t be too upset about the €105 million initial fee, a whopping 7 times return on investment. Not bad for a club used to practicing financial discipline, even at the expense of losing its most important players.
There is no doubting Dembele and Dortmund were the perfect marriage for a year. A sublimely skilled wide man, the young Frenchman has incredible pace and agility to go along with surprising distribution skills for one so individually talented. Like the mercurial Brazilian he replaces, Dembele is a true double threat, with the ability to score from anywhere inside the 18 yard box with either foot. His 6 goals and 12 assists last season in the Bundesliga confirmed his status as one of the best young talents in all of football, with some tipping him for Ballon d’Or contention in the future.
Despite his importance to the team and his obvious success in Germany, Dembele never fully seemed to embrace the spirit of the club; the 80,000 fans that pack the Westfalenstadion for home matches did not get under his skin in the same way they have for so many others to don the yellow and black. As is the case with so many these days in modern football, Dembele’s ego has kept pace with his talents, resulting in the untenable situation he found himself in with his club once Barcelona came sniffing around this summer, the €220+ million from the Neymar sale burning a hole in their pockets.
The Catalan giants certainly have a way of getting their man, and their strategy in doing so could only be described as “through any means necessary”. But did Ousmane Dembele make the right decision? Obviously Peter Bosz is not a name to drive most football to excitement, but surely Borussia Dortmund are no European minnow club? In fact, one could argue that the new manager’s high octane brand of football, brought with him from Ajax to a team already well versed in attacking football could yield some pretty special results, especially with Dembele pulling the strings. The young talent at Dortmund is enough to make any manager drool, even with the mercurial attacker’s departure. In the end, the lure of Barcelona, one of history’s most storied sides, was just too great.
However, things are not as rosy as they once were in Catalonia. The famous MSN attacking trident carried the Blaugrana forward the last few seasons as much of the legendary core from the Halcyon days of Pep Guardiola started to show their age, or otherwise depart. Players like Xavi and Dani Alves have departed the club for good, while Andres Iniesta is multiple seasons past his best. Furthermore, as much of Barcelona’s first team stayed together through the years, the youth sides and squad continued to be pilfered by teams hungry for a bit of that trademark Barcelona verve and technical DNA, leaving top quality la Masia products a bit thin in the ranks.
Paying a squad full of world class players top of market wages through the years and run ins with football’s governing body have somewhat stymied Barcelona’s transfer might the last few years, particularly since Financial Fair Play regulations were put in place in 2012. As a result, Barcelona are still obviously one of the world’s best teams, and that won’t change until Leo Messi declines significantly from where he is now, but the unbeatable force that sent many managers into a frenzy buying up diminutive but technical midfielders in imitation? Not so much.
Ousmane Dembele is going to be a great success in Barcelona. He is no longer on a stepping stone but at a destination: one of the most prestigious the sport has to offer. At just 20 years old, Dembele still has at least a decade at the top of the sport, and should only get better for the foreseeable future. As Leo Messi ages and starts to withdraw further and further into the Barca midfield as more of a pure play maker, Dembele will be right there to step up and shoulder the burden. With his confidence and ability, it should be no problem. But will the rest of the team behind him still be elite? Will Barcelona proceed into the next decade able to compete with the likes of PSG, Manchester City and others with unbridled riches? Or perhaps most important of all, their fiercest rivals and winners of two Champions League titles in a row, Real Madrid?
Only time will tell.