By 90Min
November 21, 2018

It's not that Ousmane Dembele has been particularly bad this season for Barcelona. He has six goals and two assists in 15 appearances. It's just that, off the field, he's seemingly been doing everything he can to undermine this work.

From consuming too much junk food, too little sleep, and too many video games to turning up late to training, or sometimes not turning up at all, Dembele's off-field antics have been well documented. And he has duly been harangued from almost all avenues with the standing to do so, along with those who evidently don't. Like, I don't know, me. 

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But this isn't a hit-piece, or an attempt to further hang the Frenchman out to dry. This a why-is-this-happening-piece, and an attempt to siphon what can be done about it. Because I for one don't see the point in knocking a 21-year-old when he's down, even if that 21-year-old is a multi-millionaire and the fourth most expensive transfer of all time. 

In fact, that last point is precisely why I won't be throwing the book at the boy (who is only 24 days younger than me, but thanks to which, I can definitely still call 'boy'). Because, despite the obvious volume of extra wisdom I have managed to accrue in the 576 hours that separate us, I can still relate to the travails of young adulthood outlined in that second paragraph...even if I'm not a world class footballer and athlete. 

But what I can't relate to, and what therefore makes his situation unique and worthy of, if not sympathy, then thought and consideration, is being worth a combined total of €135m at just 20 years of age.

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Let's not forget that the journey from Stade Renaiss' youth set up to the first team, to Borussia Dortmund and then to Barcelona was condensed into a little over 22 months. Now, for some, such thrustings into the limelight are welcomed - think Kylian Mbappe

But even the generational Mbappe has not been thrown into as deep an end as his compatriot, he's still operating in the shallow waters of Ligue 1. Ousmane is two league's removed from that paddling pool of poor opposition, two stages up the food chain.

But if you take a glance at Dembele's company on that increasingly worrying list of the most expensive signings in football history, you'll quickly realise he is an outlier. 

There is simply no other man on there who's made such a high profile move at such a young age. Aside from Mbappe, with whom we've already dealt with, only Paul Pogba, who sits at joint fourth with Dembele, provides any kind of similarity. 

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But he'd already had four years of bedding in at Juventus, and had got his attitudinal issues out of the way early in his first spell with Manchester United - or at least most of them. 

Speaking to the Guardian about Renato Sanches, another youngster who lost his way early in his career after a big move, his former reserve team coach at Benfica, Helder Cristovao, explained: “Renato needs affection. He needs to feel part of something and to know that he has someone to support him – a constructive critic who knows how to talk to him."

As uttered in the opening line, Dembele is not having the same crisis of confidence or form that Sanches had in his early years at Bayern and on loan at Swansea, but he is clearly not yet at home in Barcelona.

Sure, he has plenty of 'constructive' critics, but do they now how to talk to him? Are they supportive? Can they relate to his predicament? I'm guessing not. Of course he must be disciplined for stepping out of line, but is airing his dirty laundry in public going to aid the player? 

A move away has been mooted, but the dangers of yet another relocation at such an early age are evident, especially to a league as unsettling as the Premier League - look at Sanches in south Wales.

Rather than giving up on him, or just relentlessly admonishing him, what Dembele needs right now is a stern, but fundamentally supportive hand to guide him through the mires of modern football, and all it's preposterously moneyed pitfalls.

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