PETE JENSON: Ousmane Dembele could be desperate Barcelona’s biggest hope of staying in the Champions League against mighty Bayern tonight – but he will be more motivated by attracting suitors for a transfer next summer
- Ousmane Dembele can hold talks about leaving Barcelona on a free next month
- The Frenchman has had a tough time at Barca but will start against Bayern
- He could be key to the club’s hopes of staying in the Champions League tonight
- Xavi is a big fan of Dembele and he has previously tormented Bayern in Germany
- The winger will be in the shop window but could have the game of his life
When Ousmane Dembele started to stall over signing a new contract some months ago there were Barcelona supporters who suggested the club should leave him in the stands until he extended the deal that runs out next summer.
Back in the real world the French winger, now just three weeks from being able to negotiate a free transfer away from the club, is the man they can’t afford to leave out.
Far from being in a position to freeze him out until he signs, they have to face up to the fact that he’s perhaps their biggest hope of staying in the Champions League tonight.
Ousmane Dembele has had a tough time at Barca but could help them stay in the Champions League against Bayern Munich tonight in a game which his side must surely win to survive
Dembele will start for Barcelona in a game they will probably have to win to go through unless Benfica fail to beat Dynamo Kiev. That is certainly what new coach Xavi indicated.
‘I have said many times that he is a really important player,’ he said in his pre-game press conference. ‘He’s helping us 100 per cent in the games that he has come on in. He’s happy and he’s motivated. And he has to be important in this game.’
When Dembele came on at the weekend in Barcelona’s defeat to Betis he created more havoc in his first five minutes for the opposition than than the rest of the team had managed up to that point.
His speed, direct running and positivity is exactly what Xavi wants from his wingers. It’s little wonder he said at his presentation that Dembele could be the ‘best player in the world’ in his position. He wants him to sign and he wants him fit to play from the start.
He caused more havoc against Real Betis than any other player after coming on as a late sub
Barca boss Xavi is a big fan of Dembele’s direct running and speed and should start him tonight
‘We want to dominate the game. We want to have the ball,’ added the Barcelona coach who worked his magic in the first three games in charge before that defeat to Betis. He said that beating Bayern tonight would not be a ‘miracle’ but just a case of making history. ‘Why not beat Bayern for the first time away in Europe?,’ he asked.
With a fit and flying Dembele maybe it can be done. For him it’s a homecoming of sorts as he goes back to Germany where he reached the sort of levels that persuaded Barcelona to buy him in the weeks following Neymar’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain.
And it should not be forgotten that he has form against the German champions. In 2017 Dembele terrorised Bayern in a German Cup semi-final, setting up two goals and scoring one in a 3-2 win.
Dembele could leave on a free transfer next summer but Barca can’t afford to freeze him out
Germany could even be his destination if he leaves next summer. Bayern could use a winger if they get rid of Kingsley Coman. And they may well do that to prevent him leaving for free in 2023.
Bayern will not be Dembele’s only suitor either. It’s one thing to declare him inconsistent and unpredictable, it’s another to turn your nose up at him when he does not carry a transfer fee.
Thomas Tuchel was his manager back when he was first making waves at Dortmund and Chelsea are another club Dembele could tempt as he goes from being a £100million signing to being available for nothing.
Dembele previously tormented Bayern Munich when he was a rising star at Borussia Dortmund
There is little doubt there will be takers and there is little doubt that he has no intention of sitting down to negotiate with Barcelona as those potential new clubs circle.
Tonight is his shop window and Barcelona cannot afford to be upset by that; it may be that he plays the game of his life tonight just for the gallery of possible buyers. But they can’t take it personally. He is a remnant of dafter times when the club signed cheques like the departed Lionel Messi used to sign fans’ shirts.
When Gerard Pique was asked why Bayern have thrived of late while Barcelona have struggled so much he said that the answer was very simple – it’s the way the club has been run.
Dembele was never worth £100m but it will feel like he is this evening if his magic put Barcelona in Monday’s last-16 draw.