FanView: Why Dortmund Rebel Ousmane Dembele Is the Perfect Replacement for Neymar at Barcelona
The transfer window is a greedy and fast-moving business. The ink had not yet dried on Neymar's world-record contract with Paris Saint-Germain, when the eyes of the football world looked elsewhere. Where was the next story?
When a £220m player moves, the void that he leaves behind is the first place to look. Who can replace Neymar?
Rumours of a move for Philippe Coutinho were already running rife, yet Barca's interest in the Liverpool man was by no means an insurance for Neymar's departure. The idea was always to play them together, and slowly bed Coutinho into the midfield as a potential replacement for Andres Iniesta. The Brazilian can play as a winger but he is not a like for like copy of his record-breaking compatriot.
Who is a copy of Neymar? Well, that itself is a near-impossible question to answer. It's clear that Barcelona are going to find it hard to recruiting anyone of a similar talent to their former gem, but they will have to take a risk.
If rumours are to be believed, this risk is in the form of Borussia Dortmund's Ousmane Dembele. The 20-year-old enjoyed a stunning season in Germany, following a £13m move from Stade Rennais last summer. Along with Kylian Mbappe, Dembele holds French hopes on his young shoulders and like his compatriot, he wants to reach the top as quickly as possible.
Make no mistake, Barcelona are weaker having lost Neymar and perhaps replaced him with Dembele, however he can develop and be as good.— Chris Winterburn (@cmwinterburn) August 10, 2017
On the pitch, the Frenchman appears to be of the ideal mould to fill Neymar's boots. He possesses electric speed, an entertaining arsenal of tricks and is able to orchestrate a game from the touchline.
For somebody of such a tender age, his knack of producing decisive attacking moments is a sign of genuine world-class potential.
No moment summed this up more than the 34th minute of Dortmund's game against RB Leipzig on February 4. A high ball was brought to an ice-cold stillness on the tip of Dembele's boot. Before it could think, it was ten yards past the nearest defender, flicked one side of the next victim and planted perfectly on the forehead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It was wing-play of elite quality - it doesn't get better than that - and the 'get the crowd on their feet' nature of the move would have made Neymar's eyes twinkle. With 103 successful dribbles in the Bundesliga last season, no-one could get close to Dembele's take-on ability, and only Felipe Anderson Lionel Messi and Neymar surpassed him in the top five leagues.
In the Champions League, he completed 30 dribbles and recorded six assists. Only one player had better figures on both fronts: Neymar (51 dribbles and eight assists).
The Brazilian is a level ahead of Dembele statistically, but the Frenchman is his next closest challenger at five years his junior. At Dembele's age, Neymar was still playing in Brazil.
One of the biggest factors of being a modern Barcelona player is whether you can use your talents to optimise Messi's playing environment. You don't see yourself as more important than Barcelona, and certainly not than Messi. It's not an ego-massaging exercise, simply a consequence of playing with the greatest player of all time.
Last season, Dortmund's main man was not Dembele, but Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker scored 31 goals on his way to the Bundesliga Golden Boot, and was the poster boy of Thomas Tuchel's side. How did Dembele contribute to that? Well, he set up ten of Aubameyang's goals; no one in Germany set up more goals for one player than he did. In comparison, Neymar only set up three Messi goals in La Liga last year.
The only issue, on paper, would be the goals. Neymar scored 105 goals in four seasons with Barcelona, and it remains to be seen as to whether Dembele is capable of being a goal-scoring winger as well as a creator. Last season, he notched 10 goals in 49 matches. It's not bad but it's not worthy of over £100m, if goals are what you are looking for.
As we stand, the young Dortmund winger is rebelling. This morning he missed training, which led to the German club confirming that talks with Barcelona had taken place. The reported asking price is £135m and, if he lives up to his potential, Ousmane Dembele is certainly a talent worth the risk.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored