As I write this piece, I begin to think about the careers of many who have not taken off, been grounded or not flown as high as they were supposed to, given their immense footballing talents.
It is a bit early to classify Ousmane Dembele as a failed superstar, but the fear lingers in the minds of many football fans, especially local fans back in his home country of France and fans of Barcelona who have seen his quality first hand. The quality that made him the world’s first player under 21 to be priced at £100m and above.
The ambidextrous Dembele rose to prominence in France playing for Rennes, where he outshone almost every player individually and was the French league’s most talked-about player for the two years he spent in the senior team. Soon, major European clubs came calling and Dembele opted for Germany as he and his entourage believed that Borussia Dortmund would offer him the minutes he would need to develop as a footballer. This opportunity, he used to great effect, adapting and starring in the league, catching the eye of Barcelona in just one year of being in the Bundesliga. His dream club finally noticed him.
He made the move in 2017 and since then, it has been a roller coaster ride with a player who was once the brightest prospect in world football.
Dembele has been the poster child for indiscipline since joining Barcelona. Missing training, missing his Spanish and Catalan language lessons (it’s been two years and he can’t properly speak the language, making communication with his teammates difficult), coming late to match warm-ups, hiding injuries, and straying from the club’s approved diet. Last season, it got so bad that most of the Barcelona dressing room had to express their disapproval at his behaviour when he reportedly arrived 25 minutes late for their Champions League clash against Inter Milan.
Dembele has been also reportedly chastised by Barcelona several times for allowing his love for gaming and fast food distract him from his work. He is reported to be guilty of staying up late into the night playing video games and chowing down on high-calorie food the night before some important engagement and matches, which eventually rules him out of said engagements. This negative mindset has also spilled into his game as he, with his immense quality, has struggled to fit in with Barcelona despite possessing the exact footballing qualities Barcelona require in their players.
In recent reports, Dembele did not report to the club’s medical facilities to enable the club work out a recovery plan for him following his injury at Athletic Bilbao on opening day, and Dembele’s former cook, Mickael Naya, who was appointed by the Barcelona board to help him with his dieting, has blamed Dembele’s entourage for his indiscipline. Naya claims his uncle and his best friend, with whom he lives in Barcelona, enable his behaviour and do not provide a good support system for the youngster, who Naya also described as being a “good kid”.
This act has earned him another fine, making him Barcelona’s most fined player of all time, in just two years with the club.
Although his agent, Moussa Sissoko, has accused the board of exaggerating the issues surrounding Dembele at the club and leaking information to the media which are hurting his client’s reputation, it still leaves a lot to be questioned about Dembele’s mental space and his commitment to the sport.
Some may mention his meteoric rise to stardom in his young age as being too much to handle, and while there is a temptation to compare him to his peers who are disciplined and are doing well in their clubs, Dembele will still remain an enigma, and one we would like to see unfold.