Two months ago, in one of my first columns here, I opined that Ousmane Dembele had to shape up or be shipped out.
Reading over the piece again, it’s clear that I was fairly scathing of his attitude at that time.
Well, I’m holding my hands up, because it looks like I was wrong about him.
Or at least, I can look back now and know that all of the things which were stopping Dembele from fulfilling his obvious potential are no longer talking points.
With his goals against Levante on Thursday night, the Frenchman has become the only Barcelona player to have scored in every competition this season.
4 - @Dembouz is the first @FCBarcelona player to score in four different competitions this season: Spanish Supercup, Liga, @ChampionsLeague & Copa del Rey. Performance pic.twitter.com/jIIm2fNwRx— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 17, 2019
And, importantly, he’s started to become the difference maker that everyone hoped he could be.
There’s been a sea change in attitude too. Gone is the lackadaisical, ‘can’t be bothered’ way of being, and in its place is a driven and focussed wide man. No more rumours of lateness to training either.
He’s thriving on the responsibility of wanting to be involved, and woe betide any full-back that lets him put on the afterburners in a one on one.
In short, it’s a joy to watch him fully express himself now, and it’s no wonder that the Camp Nou rose as one to acclaim him when Ernesto Valverde decided it was time to hook him late in the game against Levante.
Prior to his substitution, he’d enjoyed a wonderful evening’s work.
Ousmane Dembélé vs Levante— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) January 17, 2019
74% pass accuracy
7 dribbles won
2 key passes
1 tackle won
11 duels won
He has outplayed Leo Messi. How often do you see that? Incredible performance. What a player! pic.twitter.com/M2oLvLGXlp
The green shoots of a great relationship with Messi continue to develop, and there’s no longer a reticence from his team-mates to give him the ball.
Credit has to be given to Valverde too.
When all around - including this writer (!) - were suggesting that Dembele just wasn’t worth the hassle any longer, the coach dug his heels in and insisted that the Frenchman remained part of his plans.
For whatever reason when a player is struggling, the importance of getting that kind of backing can’t be downplayed and surely helped in getting the player to turn the corner.
Goals - 12 of them now in 2018/19 - will have helped Dembele’s confidence no end, and he now has genuine claims to be one of the first names on the team sheet each week.
Could we really have foreseen that back in the earlier part of the campaign?
Ousmane Dembélé this season:— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) January 17, 2019
⏱️directly involved in a goal every 101 minutes
Whether or not Barca are allowed to continue in the Copa del Rey this season is a moot point, because Dembele’s skill set will be needed in the Champions League and at the business end of the La Liga campaign in any event.
The kid’s making a real name for himself now... and I for one am happy to eat some humble pie.