There’s a saying used in show business for when the leading actor calls in sick or the props malfunction: The show must go on! And so it was that Barcelona looked out over a sea of apprehensive fans, still mourning the loss of “Juninho,” and pulled out all the stops to keep the curtain from closing on their performance. Using their unexpected (and rather unwelcome) windfall, from the transfer of the Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. to PSG, they put down a hefty sum for Ousmane Dembélé from Borussia Dortmund. Like chess wizards, Barcelona’s move was meticulously calculated and should make competitors shift uneasily in their seats and eye the new lineup with consternation.
Dembélé, the professional footballer from Vernon, France, cost a lot to secure; but if you consider his merits, it becomes apparent why Barcelona took a chance and footed the bill. Speaking of footing, the young Frenchman can use both feet with exceptional skill; in fact, he’s known for his “extraordinary acceleration” on the ball while retaining tight control (a good trait for a forward). Is he another Neymar? Well, let’s ask that question again in a few years; after all, neither Rome nor Neymar was built in a day.
If you look at his brief history, though, the name Dembélé shows up again and again in pivotal moments of play. Consider Dortmund for a moment—a club that teetered on relegation more than once in recent years, in spite of being the second largest club in Germany. In his first (and last) season with Dortmund, he advanced his team past the 2017 DFB-Pokal semifinals when he scored the winning goal against Bayern. Then, in the finals, Dembélé scored the first goal of a 2-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, was named the Man of the Match and helped Dortmund end a five-year dearth of major trophies. By the end of the term, Dembélé had made a name for himself, being awarded the Rookie of the Season in the Bundesliga. And it’s that way wherever he goes.
Although he lacks the experience, record or reputation of Neymar, his future looks bright. Fresh, energetic and trainable, he’s five years younger than the man who he’s replacing and he has years to improve. That’s what Barcelona is betting on, anyway; and if they are right, they’ve done well. Not only have they breathed new life into the deflated hopes of dispirited fans, but they’ve gotten their blood pumping again—there’s excitement around this new recruit! By the way, Barca won’t make the same mistake twice…since they’ve invested a small fortune to make Dembélé a part of the team, they’re protecting their investment with a €400 million early release clause. That, they hope, is insurance enough.
Now, let’s see how Messi and Suarez mesh with the much more novice player that has yet to earn a Bota de Oro (although it’s likely to happen, perhaps even soon). For Dembélé, who will be donning Neymar’s #11 jersey, the pressure is on. Perhaps he’ll find lots of breathing room at Camp Nou—in the vast space that was left when Neymar abdicated. Still, we’ll have to wait until he settles in to know whether there’s magic on the pitch or even the traces of wonders to come.
Barcelona can only hope that Dembélé is the diamond in the rough that he seems to be under examination. They’ll polish him up a bit, place him strategically on the pitch and let him loose to explore his gift. He could shine so brilliantly that we’ll talk less and less of what was, and chat instead increasingly about the future. Indeed, a new era for Barcelona could be just around the corner.