With 11 goals in 31 Bundesliga appearances in 2015/16, the Armenian had been the creative force behind the Westphalians’ challenge of Bayern Munich at the top of the table. He was not going to be easy to replace and a few eyebrows were understandably raised when Ousmane Dembele was confirmed as the man stepping into his boots.
Watch: Meet the real Ousmane Dembele!
Aged just 19 at the time, the French attacking midfielder arrived from Ligue 1 side Stade Rennes, where he had already showcased his talents with 12 goals in 26 French top-flight appearances. Nevertheless, few expected him to deliver so consistently in the Bundesliga, with many predicting he would be merely back-up, learning the ropes in his first season in German football. One man who – crucially – thought differently was Thomas Tuchel, who picked Dembele in his starting XI on Matchday 1, and never looked back.
With six goals and 12 assists, Dembele was involved in a Dortmund goal every 113 minutes he was on the field last season. It took him only three minutes longer than that to provide his first assist in German football, teeing up Gonzalo Castro in an emphatic 6-0 win over Darmstadt. People were starting to take note of this talented attacking individual when he opened his account and provided another assist in the wins over Wolfsburg and Freiburg.
Watch:All 12 of Dembele’s assists in 2016/17!
Scenes of Dembele and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrating started to multiply as the pair combined over and over again, with the latter benefiting substantially from his decoy as he went on to win the 2017/18 Torjägerkanone. Dembele’s pace, passing, crossing and shooting ability meant he was a threat whenever he stepped foot in the opponents’ half.
“Ousmane can play in practically every attacking position,” said Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc when announcing his signing 12 months ago. “He’s great in the one against one, is deft with both feet, is full of tricks and a menace in front of goal.” He nailed it with that prophecy, with Dembele exceeding the expectations and proving to be one of the season’s revelations.
He did not show his talent just in glimpses either, but rather delivered on his promise consistently, becoming one of Dortmund’s most reliable players. The same can now also be said for Dembele’s position in the France national team, with his name becoming one of the first not only on the squad list, but on the actual team sheet. Seven games into his international career, he has an impressive assist against Paraguay and an even more outstanding winning goal against England on his CV.
The potential was always there – right from when he netted four goals in eight games for France’s Under-17s, when he was a team-mate of RB Leipzig‘s Dayot Upamecano as Les Bleuets won the 2015 UEFA European Under-17 Championship with an emphatic 4-1 win over Germany in the showpiece.
Dembele was already on the books at Rennes by then, his and Upamecano’s paths having divided after the two friends had both played together at youth level with Évreux. The two talented players may have followed different avenues, but they are both back united in the Bundesliga, wowing fans on a weekly basis and delivering, perhaps even prematurely, on their potential.
With 20-year-old Dembele improving by the day and still some way off his peak, we could one day we talking about the fleet-flooted Frenchman in the same breath as world-beating duo Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He really is that good.
- ^ Borussia Dortmund (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Bayern Munich (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Ousmane Dembele (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Gonzalo Castro (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Torjägerkanone (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ RB Leipzig (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Dayot Upamecano (www.bundesliga.com)
- ^ Click here for more Bundesliga news and features (www.bundesliga.com)