It wasn't long ago that Ousmane Dembele was being jeered by Barcelona fans at the Camp Nou. He had just refused to leave the club after being told he wasn't wanted anymore.
There had been back-and-forth accusations, with Barcelona saying it only wanted fully committed players and Dembélé saying he would not give in to blackmail. The relationship appeared well beyond saving.
Fast forward a few weeks, though, and everyone is smiling again. The grievances are suddenly gone and peace has apparently been restored. Dembele looks happy. He is playing well and scoring, and fans have been cheering instead of booing him.
The club again wants him to stay.
“He still has our offer," Barcelona president Joan Laporta told radio station SER.
“As I said before, I think he is an extraordinary player — one of the best in the world in his position. Hopefully, he will rethink his decision at the end of the season.” Laporta, who in the past called Dembélé better than Kylian Mbappé, told the France forward to look for another club in January after he rejected a “very good offer” to extend his contract. The negotiations had been ongoing for several months ahead of the end of the contract this season.
Barcelona have been restructuring their finances and had to renegotiate the salaries of several of its players recently, reducing some of them, including of veterans Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets.
The 24-year-old Dembélé didn't accept the financial terms to renew his contract, nor accept joining another club on loan despite “at least two good offers” — including from an English club — at the end of the winter transfer window.
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández left him out of the squad during the dispute but eventually decided to bring him back. Dembélé stayed on the bench in the league match against Atlético Madrid at the beginning of February, when the crowd at Camp Nou showed its discontentment with the player by loudly booing him.
Xavi said Dembélé kept acting professionally and eventually gave him more minutes, putting him back in the starting lineup in a 4-1 league win at Valencia.
A couple of matches later, Dembélé was scoring his first goal since returning, a tough-angled shot into the top of the net after getting past a defender inside the area in the team's 4-0 rout of Athletic Bilbao. He showed the kind of form that had convinced Barcelona to break its own signing record to acquire him from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 in a deal worth up to 147 million euros (then $175 million).
Dembélé was touted as the replacement for Neymar after the Brazilian transferred to Paris Saint-Germain, but he never met the expectations in part because of a series of injuries.
He is healthy again, though, delivering good performances and — more importantly — staying in good terms with the club, fans and Xavi.
“It's not up to me if he will stay or not, but I have to say that he has been working well," Xavi said. “I'll give him that.”
(Reported by AP)