A second exclusive by Anirudh Srinivas. Illustration by Norman Kopietz
Ousmane Dembele completed his move to Barcelona earlier this week. The transfer fee of 105 million euros plus about 42 million euros in add-ons will make this the second most expensive transfer in football history, after Neymar’s move from Barcelona to PSG for 222 million euros, earlier this month. Ousmane Dembele will wear the number 11 shirt, taking over the number after Neymar’s departure to the Parisians. This transfer was a protracted one and took quite some time to reach its completion. Ousmane Dembele had been suspended by Borussia Dortmund since he boycotted training on August 10 in protest after the German side rejected Barcelona’s first offer.
He has operated predominately on the right side of a front three for Dortmund, but Thomas Tuchel also employed him in a creative central midfield role from slightly deeper positions. He had a terrific season where he contributed 10 goals and 21 assists in all competitions. He struck up an extraordinary partnership with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and both were successful in helping Borussia Dortmund win their first trophy in nearly five years. He can play on either wing in attack and last season he completed 103 successful dribbles, more than anyone else in the Bundesliga.
So, how will the talented Frenchmen fit into the Barcelona team following his big money move? These could be the likely options –
Following Neymar’s move to PSG, the left hand side of the trio upfront is free and yet to be occupied. Gerard Deulofeu has also been signed up this summer but he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the opportunities he has got, be it while he was at loan at Everton and AC Milan or in the few opportunities he has got early in the season. Dembele will most likely slot into the left hand side and could be Neymar’s direct replacement there. Luis Suarez will continue to lead the line with Lionel Messi expected to drift into central areas to get more involved, from the right hand side. Barcelona did not have a proper right back last season with the likes of Sergi Roberto and Rafinha(while playing 3 at the back) playing there. With the signing of Portuguese Nelson Semedo, who could do the job Dani Alves used to before, this could allow Messi drift into central areas with Semedo covering the right flank, ensuring the balance isn’t skewed. This would also new Barcelona boss continue to carry the traditions of Barcelona playing a possession based 4-3-3, something they have done since the days of Pep Guardiola. One of the most fascinating things about Ousmane Dembele is that he is ambipedal. Quite a few players are string with their weaker foot but Dembele can make a genuine impact with his so called weaker left foot. Remember his stunner in the DFB Pokal final?
The other possibility is that Ernesto Valverde could decide to deploy a 4-2-3-1. Valverde has tended to use a 4-2-3-1 formation during his time at Athletic Bilbao with a roaming No.10 and that is likely to be the main man Lionel Messi, himself. With two traditional wide men in Ousmane Dembele and Gerard Deulofeu, there is a genuine chance that Valverde decides to use this to exploit all the strengths of his side. With the purchase of an energetic midfielder in Paulinho(erm..), the double pivot could be consisting of Busquets and the Brazilian. Iniesta could also be used in the deeper role. The usage of 4-2-3-1 would also mean Dembele can play in the right hand side of the forward line, something he is very familiar with. His ability to use both feet will be quite important, as well. He played this role absolutely brilliantly under Tuchel at Dortmund and Dembele was at his exhilarating best.
The final possibility could be using the Cruyff-esque 3-3-1-3. Valverde might decide to use a 3-3-1-3 formation in the Cruyff mold just like Luis Enrique did towards the end of his final season in charge. Even in that formation, Dembele could fit in the right side like a glove. Barcelona’s attack at times tends to be structurally lopsided as Messi tends to drift inside from the right. Dembele could solve that issue and with Deulofeu on the other side and Messi orchestrating moves from the central areas, Barcelona could well and truly be a joy to watch.
Ousmane Dembele is one of the best young talents in the world, at the moment. The move to Barcelona could be start of a long and successful career at the highest level, with a career glittered with trophies. Dembele will be playing with the likes of Messi and Suarez and there is so much he can learn from those two, in particular. It will be a joy to watch those three link up and although Dembele cannot replicate Neymar, his presence will offer something different to Barcelona. Whisper this, but do not be surprised if this Frenchman lands the Golden Ball, one day!