ANALYSIS: Contract rebel Ousmane Dembele mirrors Barcelona’s woes


By Kartikeya Bhattacharyya
New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) FC Barcelona’s winger Ousmane Dembele released a scathing statement on Thursday in which he said, “I forbid anyone to give the impression that I am not involved in the sports project. I forbid anyone to attribute intentions to me that I’ve never had.”

He added that he was fully involved with the club and that he has always given everything for his colleagues.

The statement seems to be a response to comments from coach Xavi Hernandez and club director Mateu Alemany, who have both questioned Dembele’s commitment to the club. Alemany even went so far as to state that if the winger doesn’t want to be a part of their project, he will be sold immediately.

The genesis of this rift between the club and the player goes back to the contract negotiations which have been dragging on for months. Dembele’s contract expires on June 30 and the club risks losing him on a free transfer to one of Europe’s elite sides.

To prevent the eventuality, Barcelona have tried to convince Dembele to stay, but with the caveat that they cannot satisfy his new salary demands.

Barcelona’s financial woes have been well-documented, with the club racking up millions of euros on debts, posting a loss of 481 million euros in the 2020/21 season alone.

A major reason for these debts to reach sky-high levels is the high spending on transfer fees and wages for players such as Dembele, who simply haven’t lived up to expectations.

When Dembele came to Barcelona for 140 million euros, he was seen as a more-than-capable replacement for Neymar after having impressed for Borussia Dortmund at both club-level as well as in Europe. His body, however, has failed him multiple times as he has suffered one injury after another.

His injury record has been so poor that he has not been able to get more than 20 starts for the club in league matches, with this season in particular being his worst. A combination of injuries, COVID-19 and contract disputes have combined to reduce him to a paltry four starting games in the league.

When Dembele is on the pitch, he has shown flashes of brilliance such as the display versus Chelsea in the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League Round of 16. These moments, however, haven’t led to consistent success. Dembele has yet to register more than eight goals in a single league season.

These troubles may make it seem prudent for Barcelona to sell the winger, but the problem is that the club does not have enough money for reinforcements. Their money problems have been so bad that they could not even register new signee Ferran Torres until they got veteran defender Samuel Umtiti to agree to a reduced salary.

Their squad particularly lacks someone of the French winger’s profile as the only other player they have who can somewhat replicate his skillset is wonderkid Ansu Fati, but he has also had a lot of injury trouble. The latest happened during a recent Copa Del Rey match against Athletic Bilbao, which could potentially leave him out for as long as six weeks.

The worst part about Dembele’s problems is that his situation is not an isolated incident at all. Barcelona have been facing similar troubles with Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann, whom they signed for a combined amount of 255 million euros.

Not only did the two players not make their mark as expected, but Barca have also failed to offload them as both of them are on sky-high wages that other clubs are simply unwilling to pay. As a result, Barca have had to resort to loaning them both to Aston Villa and Atletico Madrid, respectively, just to get them off the wage bill.

They have also spent big money on players who were simply not up to Barca’s standards — 41 million euros on winger Malcom and 37 million euros on midfielder Andre Gomes, both of whom were seen as head-scratching transfers at the time, who further justified this impression by failing to make any impact at all and having to be sold for a loss to other clubs.

It’s hard not to see all these problems being self-inflicted wounds as the club was a financial juggernaut, making millions from multiple sources, from TV deals and advertisements to shirt sales, and having some of the best players in the world, including Lionel Messi, whom many consider to be the greatest player to ever grace a football pitch.

All of these positives could not offset the mismanagement from the former club president Josep Bartomeu, who faced several allegations of corruption, income-tax fraud, and launching a smear campaign against some of the club’s players.

The Spanish giants are now a shell of their former selves and though new president Joan Laporta has taken some positive steps, they are a long way off reaching the heights they once used to occupy.



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