As Barcelona’s players celebrated winning the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday night, Leo Messi sought out Ousmane Dembélé to hand him the trophy. Whether it was a misunderstanding or not, the France international, fresh from winning the World Cup, did not take the trophy from his captain.
In the photo session that followed Dembélé was also conspicuous by his absence and did not appear in the celebratory shots posted on Barcelona’s club website after the 2-1 victory over Sevilla in Tangiers despite the 21-year-old scoring the winning goal - a crisp right-footed strike from distance that hit the underside of the bar on its way in.
After a season at Camp Nou, Dembélé remains something of a mystery. His spark on the pitch, the runs that knock defenders off balance and his powerful shot all point to a great player in the making but there are still question marks over his Barcelona future following a move from Borussia Dortmund last summer for an initial fee of 105 million euros.
“We are counting on Dembélé,” Barça coach Ernesto Valverde has said on numerous occasions, a stance echoed by president Josep Maria Bartomeu. But behind the scenes the exit door remains ajar for the forward.
Dembélé under the spotlight
Barça recognise that Dembélé is a unique player and that he cannot be quantified in the same way as other squad members or the team as a whole. Valverde handed him a start against Sevilla, possibly as a nod to the fact that last season he was prevented from realising his potential due to a serious injury sustained during a league game at Getafe. Didier Deschamps also attempted to display confidence in the electric youngster during the World Cup, although Olivier Giroud’s skill set quickly became the France coach’s preferred option in support of Antoine Griezmann.
Dembélé has always exuded an air of individualism. He was criticised by his Dortmund teammates for failing to report for training when his move to Barça was being hammered out and reportedly did not impress his new colleagues instantly with his eating habits and apparent disinclination to warm-up during a game against Atlético last season.
Amid rumours of an imminent PSG bid for the player, Dembélé’s current employers are not quite sure what they have on their hands. There is little doubt that he has the potential to become a wonderful player and the club’s huge investment in him was as a key asset for the future, but the same insouciance he displays on the pitch has raised question marks over his ability to fully focus on making that happen.