In the wake of Neymar’s shock departure to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona spent more than half of the world record fee it received on the fresh-faced teenager who was setting the Bundesliga on fire.
Barça reportedly paid a then club record fee of €105 million ($119M) for Dembélé back in 2017, with the deal potentially rising to €140 million ($158.5M), and the Frenchman is reported to be on wages of around €20 million ($22.5M) per year.
But instead of filling Neymar’s sizable shoes, Dembélé went on to become — perhaps unfairly — symbolic of the Catalan club’s financial mismanagement in an era that has seen the club regress from Champions League contender to Europa League participant.
Dembélé’s time at the club would certainly appear to be coming to a close — and it’s not an end that either party would have foreseen five years ago.
The 24-year-old only has six months left on his contract, but Barcelona’s precarious financial situation means the club would much prefer he left during the January transfer window as it continues to struggle to register new players.
On Thursday, Barça released an interview with its director of football, Mateu Alemany, who said Dembélé “should leave immediately” after the player and his agents rejected numerous offers to stay during months of negotiations.
“We started conversations with Ousmane and his agents around July,” Alemany said. “During this time, in six or seven months, we’ve spoken, we’ve had dialogue, Barcelona has made various offers to look for a way for the player to stay with us.
“Those offers have been systematically rejected by his agents. It’s evident that the player does not want to stay at Barcelona and he isn’t committed to the future project of the club.
“It has been communicated to him and his agents that he should leave immediately. The sporting consequence of all this, evaluated by the coaching staff and manager, is that we do not want players who are not committed to the project.”
However, Dembélé responded with a statement later on Thursday, insisting he is still at the disposal of head coach Xavi and said he would not be “giving in to blackmail.”
Dembélé says he has gone four years without justifying anything he has read and says he has endured “rumors” and people “lying shamelessly” about him.
“That ends today,” he wrote. “From today, I am going to respond sincerely, without giving in to blackmail. I’m 24 years old and like every man I have defects and imperfections. I’ve lived complicated moments, injuries, Covid has affected me.
“I forbid anyone from giving the impression that I am not involved in the sporting project. I forbid anyone from attributing to me any intentions I’ve never had. I forbid anyone from speaking for me or my agents, who I trust completely.
“Still under contract, I am completely involved and at the disposal of my club and coach. I’ve always given everything for my teammates, the socios … now is not the time that will change.”
Barça’s woes off the field were compounded by an extra time defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey round of 16 on Thursday, ending the team’s final chance of realistically winning any silverware this season.
In truth, a trophy would have only papered over the cracks at the beleaguered club.
If Dembélé’s arrival at the Blaugrana was supposed to signal a new era, so will his departure. However, it will take much more than one unhappy player leaving for this club to regain its former glory.