It was an up-and-down season to say the least. Many players disappointed while others simply met expectations. However, Ousmane Dembele was one of the most pleasant surprises for the 2016-17 Borussia Dortmund season.
Dembele, who came to Germany on a transfer from Stade Rennais last summer for a low fee of €8M, more then made his presence felt whenever he set foot on the pitch. From the get-go in the preseason last July, it was clear the combination of Dembele and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be something incredibly special.
Although it didn’t lead to a Bundesliga title, Dortmund secured a top-three finish thanks in large part to the effort of its younger members like Dembele. Over the next few seasons, starlets like Dembele will become some of the most widely talked about players in the world, and Dortmund are lucky to have multiple.
However, Dembele is special. His eye for the game makes him more likely to turn into one of the world’s best players by the end of his career and a definite legend of the footballing world.
The Frenchman led the team with 12 assists in 32 league games. In the Champions League, he was again instrumental in Dortmund’s success, accruing six assists in 10 matches - both team-highs.
Unlike many his age or older, Dembele possesses an unmatched creativity for the game that makes his ability superior to most. It’s as if Dembele can see the play before it happens. This anticipation alone gives him a huge upside.
Another big advantage for Dembele is his speed. With or without the ball at his feet, the Frenchman is one of the fastest men on the field at any given time. Combined with the pace of Aubameyang, Dortmund’s counter attacking offense can easily exploit opposing defenses.
Finally, despite his young age, Dembele delivered in the clutch. He became a cup hero, scoring a gorgeous game-winner in the Pokal Semifinal against Bayern Munich and drew first blood in the Final against Frankfurt. In the first leg UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals, Dembele pushed forward through incredibly difficult circumstances and put Dortmund on the board with a goal. His ability to perform in the clutch is something that you don’t see in many 19-year-old players.
Tied with Sokratis for a less-impressive team-high seven yellow cards, Dembele’s discipline proved to be a slight issue. He committed 27 fouls in league play, more than the amount of shots he had on target (19). Dembele threw his body around in an attempt to win the ball from an opponent, something he can’t afford to do much longer.
Dembele was also guilty of trying to do too much at times, refusing to use his teammates for passing outlets by opting to take on multiple defenders. As you could imagine, this strategy often failed unless he benefited from a lucky bounce. Even the best players in the world realize the need to pass the ball when faced with a wall of opposing players. Dembele learned this as the season rolled on, but continued to make some stupid decisions with the ball that destroyed attacking chances.
Is it a coincidence that Aubameyang had his best season yet in Dembele’s first year at Dortmund? I think not. There are very few people who can not only keep up with Aubameyang’s blistering runs, but who can thread the needle while moving just as quick. Dembele can.
That’s what makes him so valuable. Not that he anticipates the play and can perform well under pressure, but that he does both those things at high speed with little time to survey the situation. There’s large reason to remain hopeful that Dembele will be a superstar within the next decade.
With very few flaws in his game, Dembele is one of Dortmund’s prized possessions and is already highly sought after. For €8M, he’s a worthy investment.