Ousmane Dembele has quickly become one of Europe’s hottest prospects following his breakthrough season in Ligue 1. The Rennes forward has burst onto the scene and has attracted the interest of some the world’s biggest clubs.
NAME: Ousmane Dembele
HE'S A BIT LIKE: Cristiano Ronaldo
Who is he?
Dembele made his first-team debut in November 2015 and has been at the Rennes academy since the age of 13. Despite some impressive performances at youth and reserve level, Rennes refused to introduce the 18-year-old to the first team.
A contract dispute also saw Dembele near the exit door. The youngster refused to sign a professional contract and claim that the club had lost all faith in him. However, a resolution was found and Dembele has gone from strength-to-strength.
He made an instant impact on his debut against Bordeaux scoring after just 30 minutes latching on
to a low cross from Paul-Georges Ntep to open the scoring. He has since gone to score 10 goals in
just 19 appearances in the league including a hat-trick against fierce rivals Nantes.
Style of Play
The French youngster is a pacy, direct wide player who is capable of operating on either wing or as the striker. An injury to Ntep has meant Rennes have turned to Dembele to fill the void on their left- hand side. As well as contributing 10 goals this season, the most of any teenagers in Europe's top five leagues, he has also added five assists for his team-mates this season. However, Dembele has identified that his passing is a potential area for improvement.
"I need to be more efficient because sometimes in situations I try to dribble when I should be passing. I lose the ball and get an earful from the others!" the 18-year-old admitted. "But I'm working on that; my team play needs improving."
Dembele is also comfortable on either foot which means he is extremely versatile and able to keep defenders guessing when deployed in a number ten role. The Frenchman's best attribute is his dribbling ability. He has completed 66 out of his 94 take-ons this season; a success rate of 70%. Only Hatem Ben Arfa and Sofiane Boufal have completed more.
Moment of the season
His hat-trick against rivals Nantes will go down as the youngster's moment of the season. Dembele opened the scoring after just 60 seconds at Roazhon Park; capitalising on a defensive mishap to punish the opposition from the outset. The forward doubled his tally midway through the first half when he floated a free-kick past goalkeeper Remy Riou in the Nantes goal. The 18-year-old completed his hat-trick on the stroke of half-time turning his opposite defender too easily and finishing low to the left. He became the youngest player to score a Ligue 1 hat-trick since Jeremy Menez in 2005.
“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that he can win the Ballon d’Or,” former France international and now presidential advisor Mikael Silvestre told France Football back in January. Silvestre also likened Dembele to both Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney and said he showed similar characteristics to Ronaldo when he was at the same age.
Yannich Menu, a coach at Rennes, also praised the youngster. “He came here relatively early and he already had fluidity to his game, great dribbling and technical qualities. We didn’t know if he was right or left footed!” said the coach.
The forward is extremely determined. "I always play to try to please the crowd, but now I need to focus on hard work," he said in an interview. "What I'm doing is good but if I want to keep it up, I can't afford to let my efforts drop.”
Dembele also expressed his love for Barcelona and his hopes of donning the blue and red shirt in the future. "My dream is to play for Barcelona. The Liga is a tough league but I'm inspired by players like Neymar and Messi. You have to work very hard to reproduce what they do, especially Neymar. I also like the Bundesliga – they like attacking, don't ask questions and like playing football."
Dembele's signature has quickly become one of the most sought after in all of Europe following his breakout season. Not even Anthony Martial's rise to fame was as explosive as Dembele who has attracted the attention of all of Europe's biggest clubs.
Both Monaco and Paris St Germain have both expressed an interest in bringing one of the country's hottest prospects to their respective clubs. PSG will have the upper hand in the race for his signature and could offer the youngster first-team football should Zlatan Ibrahimovic depart the French capital. They will also feel they have the advantage after winning the title so convincingly this season as well as remaining in the running for the Champions League.
Clubs in the Premier League has also expressed an interest in bringing Dembele across the water. Liverpool have reportedly shown an interest but are unlikely to meet the club's valuation of their starlet. Tottenham is another club keen on the youngster but it is Manchester City who are the favourites from England to secure the signing. City could offer Dembele the chance to work with one of the best managers in the world but must secure a top four finish to stand any chance of competing with other clubs in the Champions League.
The favourites to sign Dembele are Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Premature reports emerged this week that Bayern had secured a £27m deal to sign the forward in the summer. Dembele refused this suggestion and stated he had not spoken to any club. He would join a plethora of attacking talent and link up with countryman Kingsley Coman if he completed a move to Bavaria.
Reports suggest that Barcelona have sent scouts to watch the winger in action with a view to signing him in the summer. He could see first-team opportunities limited due to the form of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez but a move to his dream club could be too hard to resist.
Rennes are hopeful of securing a large transfer fee for academy graduate who will see his transfer value inflate depending on his inclusion in France's Euro 2016 squad. There have been calls for Didier Deschamps to include the youngster his 23-man squad following his form in the league and a seat on the plane will no doubt boost the transfer fee in any potential deal.
Only time will tell if Dembele can push on to live up to expectations and who knows, maybe Silvestre will be right and the youngster will challenge for the Balon d'Or in the future. Whatever happens, the future is bright for Dembele and French national football.
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