Tuesday 15 January 2019

Barcelona waking up to Dembele's raw talent

Ousmane Dembele scores Barcelona’s goal against Tottneham despite the best efforts of Kyle Walkers-Peters. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Ousmane Dembele scores Barcelona’s goal against Tottneham despite the best efforts of Kyle Walkers-Peters. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Pete Jenson

'Put the training back a couple of hours every day,' screamed one Catalan radio journalist as he commentated Ousmane Dembele's early opener in the Camp Nou press box on Tuesday night.

The France winger had slept in on Sunday, turning up for training two hours late. Just as his team-mates were leaving the club's Joan Gamper training ground he was arriving.

Asked if the matter was now put to bed Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde joked: "Well I don't know, we have another training session tomorrow."

Dembele really is good enough for the club to currently be making light of behaviour that in a player of lesser talent would have already have seen him pushed irreversibly towards the exit.

Confident

Barca go into the knockout stages of this season's Champions League feeling a lot more confident than they did last season because as Tuesday night showed they aren't just about Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez this season.

Last year with Dembele still not up and running on the pitch and with Philippe Coutinho Champions League cup-tied it meant that any team able to stifle Messi and Suarez had a chance of overcoming them as Roma did in the quarter-finals.

Dembele's flair for the extraordinary gives them something extra. When Neymar left the club in 2017 Valverde insisted that Dembele be the priority signing over Coutinho. When it seemed that the club only had time to bring in one player before the season started he wanted Dembele more than the Liverpool player because he felt his side would lack pace and penetration post-Neymar.

Dembele provided that in the seventh minute against Tottenham it was the ninth match running he had set up or scored one of Barcelona's goal.

His name was chanted by the Camp Nou after his goal, not for the first time this season. The demand fantasy football and he provides it. His relationship with the supporters seems better than with his team-mates.

There is a level of exasperation from the dressing room over Dembele's failure to grasp the enormity of the club he is at and the responsibility.

They despaired last season when he rejected the club's idea of a club chef helping him prepare his meals at home while he was injured because there were concerns he was falling back into the fast-food eating habits of the pals.

And they struggle with his inability to do the basics - such as turn up for training. The club have lurched in the last few weeks from one position to another very different one.

At one point they looked like allowing a negative campaign to build momentum, one that would justify Dembele's sale at a loss in January or next summer. They have since moved to protect their investment amid criticism they were giving him no chance to succeed.

He is a very young 21-year-old, in Barcelona without a family framework who is unable to speak Spanish or Catalan and who is yet to find his place in a dressing room in which he fits neither in the home-grown nor the South American cliques.

Barcelona will not be changing training times to accommodate their sleepy forward. He will have to change. But performances like the one he produced against Tottenham will help convince them they have to help him change. His raw, uncoachable quality is too precious to allow to slip away.

Independent News Service

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