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What is Dembele’s Barcelona future following Malcom signing?

14:00 GMT+3 31/07/2018
Dembele Malcom Barca
The talented France forward arrived last summer after Neymar left the club, but his place could now be under threat from another Brazilian attacker

Barcelona's signing of Malcom has caused controversy. The winger arrived last week in a €41 million deal , despite the fact that both Bordeaux and Roma had announced the player would be moving to the Stadio Olimpico this summer.

The Catalans' late interest in the 21-year-old Brazilian even sparked some suggestions that the club had been unaware of him until Roma's sporting director Monchi made his move, while the nature of the deal also raises serious doubts over Barca's strategy in the transfer market.

Coach Ernesto Valverde had wanted to sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid and everyone at Barca was sure the France forward would arrive at Camp Nou this summer. There were even indications from the player that he would be joining.

But Griezmann accepted a huge offer to stay at Atleti that will see him bring in around €23m after tax every year and his decision, announced in a documentary at the start of the World Cup, meant Barca had to think again.

So after signing midfielder Arthur from Gremio earlier in the summer and then bringing in centre-back Clement Lenglet from Sevilla , they swooped to recruit Malcom to bolster their forward line for 2018-19.

The Brazilian is undoubtedly an exciting player who was wanted by a number of clubs across Europe, although not seemingly by Barca until right at the last minute (although they were aware of him), and not by Valverde.

Asked about his new winger in his first press conference of the pre-season, Valverde gave a somewhat awkward response. "He is a player the club has known for some time and in the end they have decided to sign him," he said. "He is a young player, with future projection, and the club decided to sign him."

It was not a very convincing statement and one which did not suggest harmony between the technical team, now led by former left-back Eric Abidal after Robert Fernandez left in June, and the coaching staff.

Malcom, who hit the winning penalty against Tottenham after a 2-2 draw in the teams' International Champions Cup clash on Saturday night , will now line up against Roma, the side he snubbed to join Barca, in Texas on Tuesday .

Roma were also the team that knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League last season and Valverde surprisingly left out Ousmane Dembele of his line-up in both legs of that away-goals loss, only throwing on the France forward for the final few minutes as the Blaugrana sought a late goal in the Italian capital.

That was despite the fact that Philippe Coutinho, signed in January from Liverpool, was cup-tied and unable to feature in the Champions League after playing in the group stages of the competition with the Reds earlier in the season.

Certainly there was a sense that Valverde did not trust Dembele when it mattered most and there were even reports that he could leave the Catalan club after an injury-interrupted first season at Camp Nou. An unremarkable World Cup – despite France winning the tournament – where Dembele barely featured in the knockouts after a poor group stage did little to repair his reputation.

The signing of Malcom has only intensified speculation surrounding his future, but Abidal said last week: "Dembele is important. We absolutely count on him. [He and Malcom] are players who play in the same position, but the seasons are long and we are thinking of the club. Dembele can be relaxed, he is important."

One of the concerns over the former Borussia Dortmund attacker last season was a perceived lack of defensive discipline, but the club are sure he will benefit from a full pre-season and believe he can continue to adapt in this coming campaign.

"We hope it's his season," Valverde said on Friday. "He has to give us a lot of things, he is an extraordinary player. Last year was unfortunate because of the injury he had, but even then he gave us a lot."

Having paid an initial €105m for Dembele a year ago, Barca are definitely not ready to give up on the France forward, now a World Cup winner and still only 21, but it is likely that he and Malcom will be in direct competition for a starting spot for the Catalan club in 2018-19.