Ousmane Dembélé turned up 50 minutes early to training yesterday, perhaps in a bid to atone showing up two hours late for the previous session.
Dembélé had “liked” some critical tweets from influential Catalan journalist Gerard Romero in the intervening time. Romero had gone on a rant, accusing the Frenchman of a serious lack of commitment. This, it seemed, was an ironic “like” towards the journalist.
Romero replied in kind, with a series of “clapping” emojis that also seemed ironic as he celebrated “the alarm going off.”
“When [Dembélé being early] is news, the situation is worse than we thought,” Romero said.
In an op-ed for Diario SPORT, Lluís Mascaró summed up what a lot of the local media feels about the situation: “Many supporters (and some journalists) feel there’s a campaign against Ousmane Dembélé. It’s true. There is a campaign. And the main architect in it is Dembélé himself.”
In other words, the person who creates the negative coverage is the player himself.
The winger had previously liked a comment on Instagram that satirically credited a SPORT opinion piece with over-the-top criticism. The sort of ironic comment is popular on social media among Barcelona fans. One popular recent example was to suggest SPORT or Mundo Deportivo had criticized Dembélé for scoring an important equalizer in injury time against Atlético Madrid “late” in the match.
It’s totally true that a lot of fans think Dembélé is the target of a loose media campaign against him. Some speculate that it’s an attempt to force him to leave, and allow Neymar to replace him. Others say it’s a product of racism. That factor seems especially topical, as Raheem Sterling (another young black winger) recently questioned the treatment he got from the English media due to the color of his skin.
But such sentiments are not unanimous. A lot of fans are also perplexed at Dembélé’s missteps. He’s playing well, yes, but is he showing the right attitude? It’s a fair question.
What’s becoming more clear is that the club has to be more united. Barça can privately punish the player for his mistakes, while sparing him publicly. There are leaks about Dembélé’s attitude that are coming from within the club, which is building more pressure on the player.
Ernesto Valverde expressed a wish to deal with the topic internally, but that wish won’t stop the leaks and won’t stop the discussion. What will stop them is the whole organization moving in that direction, together.
Recently, rumors came along that the player was fined for being late to training, but the club did not announce it publicly. Reports are also saying that the team feel committed to Dembélé, at least for now.
Looking at it realistically, Barcelona’s best chance to win the UEFA Champions League this season involves having Dembélé contributing.
That probably means helping him. Not coddling him, of course, but being understanding. Yes, the player himself has maturing to do. What person at his age doesn’t? In the end, he has final say about the kind of person he becomes. But the only way it is likely to work out is if the team is generous in the amount of care they give him.