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What next for Dembele after Barcelona transfer bombshell?

4:00 PM SGT 21/1/22
Ousmane Dembele Barcelona
The World Cup winner has effectively been told to leave Camp Nou this January after a breakdown in contract negotiations

From Xavi heralding him as potentially the best winger in the world, to being shown the door – it has been a rollercoaster few weeks for Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele.

Patience has run out for the forward, an enigma nobody in the Catalan capital learned to decode, and he has been told to either renew his contract or leave the club immediately

He could prove a bargain for potential suitors, but who will back themselves to get the best from a player who has only caused headaches for Barcelona since they made him their then-record signing from Borussia Dortmund for €147 million (£123m/$167m), variables included?

Dembele’s Barcelona deal expires in the summer and throughout this season negotiations have stuttered with his agent Moussa Sissoko, with his club’s confidence he would stay slowly draining down to nothing.

The situation hit boiling point this week, with director of football Mateu Alemany effectively ending Dembele’s career.

“Today, January 20, with 11 days left in the last transfer window before his contract ends, it is obvious that the player does not want to stay and is not committed to our future,” said Alemany on Thursday.

“Given this scenario, he and his agents have been informed that he should leave immediately because we want players who are committed to our project. Therefore, we hope to transfer him before January 31.” 

Xavi’s words of praise for Dembele had not been repaid. He put his faith and trust in Dembele, who told the new coach that he wanted to stay, but, in the boardroom, there was no movement with Sissoko.

This now appears a strategy to keep Dembele in Xavi’s good books and getting playing time, while refusing to commit.

The agent’s wage demands were too high for a club in economic turmoil and Barcelona say they made several offers that were rebuffed. 

Dembele was cut from the squad which lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night and he may never appear in a Barcelona shirt again.

He responded on Instagram, referring to Barcelona’s treatment of him as "blackmail", which is unlikely to improve relations with Alemany and president Joan Laporta.

The former Dortmund attacker, equally adroit on either foot, is one of the most talented players in the game, but has never been able to consistently harness his exceptional skill and explosive pace to good effect for Barcelona for more than a few games in a row.

Even during last season, his longest run in the team without injury, he was an out-of-control firework, damaging opponents but also his own team with haywire decision-making and little intention of tracking back.

Xavi believed he was capable of transforming Dembele from uncut gem to world-beater, but he did not reckon with the player’s equally chaotic off-the-field life management.

Although Dembele has cleaned his act up after being accused of unprofessional behaviour during his first years at the club in particular, he is still viewed as a maverick character, who is not surrounded by people helpful to his career or development. 

It begs the question, who will take a chance on Dembele? And might it be fewer sides than he and Sissoko hoped for, and offering less money than they wanted?

In the summer, Paris Saint-Germain might be interested in the winger. Kylian Mbappe has not signed a new deal and is likely to join Real Madrid, so it would be an easy replacement, if not like-for-like.

Barcelona have threatened to freeze Dembele out for the second half of the season if he does not go in January, for which they were reprimanded by the AFE (Spanish footballers’ association).

PSG might be open to making a loan move for him earlier than expected at Dembele’s request, even though their attacking spots are well-populated, just to keep him involved and active until they need him, and get in ahead of other clubs who might later decide they want him. 

However, given the frosty relations between Barcelona and PSG, with both Lionel Messi and Neymar choosing to join the Parisians as the biggest shells landing in a long-running war, a deal might take quite some work.

In England, Newcastle United could afford him and he would instantly improve a team currently embroiled in a battle against relegation from the Premier League.

The Magpies were rejected by Eden Hazard this week, per El Nacional, are also linked with Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard, and Dembele is a player with a similar profile.

Liverpool have also been connected with the forward, with Sadio Mane struggling for form and Mohamed Salah in a contract stand-off.

Jurgen Klopp is said to admire Dembele, even though he trashed the Liverpool coach’s flat, which he was renting in Dortmund when he forced his move to Barcelona.

Dembele has burned bridges everywhere he has played, warring with Rennes before getting his Dortmund switch, where he was AWOL from training before they let him go to Barcelona.

Now, he is poised to depart the Catalans in similarly acrimonious fashion, and whichever club he lands at can consider themselves warned there might be trouble ahead.

At least his persistent hamstring problems have eased; an unfortunate knee injury sustained at the European Championship kept him out until November, but that is hopefully a one-off incident.

Given there would not be much of a transfer fee to pay Barcelona, any under-performing side that could afford his wages might be tempted to gamble on the forward.

If Dembele clicks, he could revitalise a struggling Chelsea attack, although the Blues have plenty of talented players at the club they might prefer to better utilise.

Manchester United signed Jadon Sancho in the summer so they seem unlikely suitors, although given the Red Devils’ scattergun approach to transfers in recent years, it can’t be ruled out, and they have been linked by Sport.

Tottenham could use his creativity and until Steven Bergwijn burst into life against Leicester City on Wednesday night, Dembele might have been among the front-runners for him.

Kingsley Coman’s new Bayern Munich deal means the German giants are unlikely to be in the market for a winger, after being linked early in January, while Juventus need firepower but are having financial difficulties of their own.

Fittingly, for such a perplexing player and character, the only certainty is uncertainty, and that wherever Dembele goes, fireworks are bound to follow, on and off the pitch.