As repeated by Al Pacino in 'Any Given Sunday', football is a question of inches, and Ousmane Dembele is beginning to conquer them one at a time this season. A year after signing for Barça, the 'Mosquito' is starting to fly high. The Ousmane we saw at Dortmund is still quite far away, just as his stuttering start at the Camp Nou last year is. This is what happened to two other French players who used to play for Barcelona: Eric Abidal and Thierry Henry.
The €105m - plus €40m in add-ons - Barça paid for him, making Dembele at the time the most expensive transfer in the club's history, weighed heavily on his shoulders. Not only that but armed with the mission to replace Neymar, then suffering a serious injury in the third LaLiga match of the campaign, were two major obstacles which were difficult for him to overcome. In particular the mental side of this, for a 20-year-old who at 18 was a relative 'unknown', someone who had never even left his country before.
His 'golazo' against Chelsea allowed us to dream of a happy ending last season, but his desire to respond was hindered by the overwhelming amount of criticism he received. His professionalism was questioned: a poor diet, turning up late to training and barely speaking with his teammates. The last of which was due to his limited knowledge of Spanish.
Because of this, Barça considered selling Dembele. He was never made 'non-transferable' by the club but they were tempted to try and recover most of what they spent on the winger. Dembele himself also had doubts about staying this season. This was only increased when the club signed Malcom, someone who plays in the same position as he does. PSG and Arsenal were interested in Dembele but following his poor World Cup, despite France winning the tournament, it meant he was likely to remain at Barcelona.
"I want Dembele to stay." That is what Ernesto Valverde said at the beginning of August. The coach wanted to get the best out of Dembele, he promised to help him as long as he showed a greater effort both on and off the pitch. Even before we reached the end of August, the results were clear to see.
Ousmane has been a starter in all three official matches and was the hero in the Spanish Super Cup as well as against Valladolid. Two goals have given him a huge dose of confidence. The forward hasn't been asked to score more goals, but rather to destabilise the opposition over and over again from the wing to generate space for Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and also Coutinho. In Zorrilla, Dembele edged closer to what Valverde expects from him: armed with self-confidence and to see that electric pace he showed at Dortmund.
The opinion of Dembele throughout the club has changed. His teammates have made more of an effort with him and he's responded with kind. It isn't a mere coincidence that everyone ran to hug Dembele following his goal against Sevilla. On Saturday, against Valladolid, Ousmane went straight to Sergi Roberto to thank him for the assist. The first person to join them was Messi, aware the young star needs compassion just as much as he needs goals.
It's still too soon to say whether this will be the breakout season Dembele needs but the difficult part appears to be over. He's taken responsibility and is improving, now he needs to show this form over a longer period of time. If the injuries allow him to, his quality will shine through. Welcome to the new 'Mosquito'.