BARCELONA (Reuters) - Ousmane Dembele has endured a frustrating start to life at Barcelona.
Signed from Borussia Dortmund in August for a club record fee of 147 million euros (129.64 million pounds), now surpassed by the 160 million euros the Catalans spent on Philippe Coutinho, the Frenchman was brought to Camp Nou to replace Neymar.
Left reeling after Paris St. Germain activated the Brazilian’s 222 million euro buy-out clause, Barcelona spent more than half of that money on a player who could light up their attack in the same way Neymar did.
However on Dembele’s second start for the club, against Getafe on Sep. 16, he tore his hamstring.
What followed was more than three months of recovery work, until he was finally able to make his return last week against Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey last-16 first leg, as a substitute.
That was followed by his first start since injury, in the 3-0 La Liga win over Levante on Sunday, playing well without making a large individual impact until he was replaced in the 67th minute.
Although fans are anxious to see the winger perform at the level he managed at Dortmund, it may take some time for him to build up his form and fitness.
Barcelona team mate Jordi Alba is certain the 20-year-old will get back to his best and improve beyond that too.
“(Dembele) is adapting perfectly to the club and he’s a great kid. You have to have patience because he’s very young, but he’s going to make us better, he has tremendous qualities,” Alba told Gol TV.
“We’re talking about a spectacular player and little by little his performances are going to get better.
“He can strike a ball brilliantly with both feet, we don’t know if he’s left or right-footed. And he’s so quick. We haven’t done any tests but I think he’s quicker than me.”
Coach Ernesto Valverde picked Dembele on the right side of the attacking three midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Levante, a set-up he last used at Athletic Bilbao.
In the second half the winger moved over to the left flank, showing his versatility, with Andres Iniesta coming inside and Lionel Messi taking Dembele’s original spot.
“I know that I have a long way to go to get to my best level and I have to keep working for that,” Dembele told Barca TV.
“The hardest thing during this time was maintaining the concentration to recover quickly, I need to have a lot of patience to integrate myself into the team bit by bit.”
With Barcelona nine points clear of the competition in La Liga, Dembele has the chance to bed in without pressure and turn a troubled start into a perfect finish, with the club hoping for success on three fronts.
Reporting by Rik Sharma; Editing by Christian Radnedge