When Ousmane Dembele pulled off a backheel against Getafe, the only thing which appeared hurt was the opposing defender’s pride. The young winger, the successor to Neymar Jr, is full of tricks but was unable run towards the ball following the move. He quickly grabbed the back of his leg and knew something was wrong. After a minute or so he sat down knowing this wasn’t something he could just run off. A disaster.
Yet one man’s loss is another man’s gain. Gerard Deulofeu, who started the season alongside Messrs Suarez and Messi, now has an opportunity he probably thought wouldn’t be forthcoming. The absence of Dembele for the rest of the year means the right wing spot is Deulofeu’s to lose. Could this be the chance the former Everton man needs to push on and finally fulfil his potential?
Bought to be sold, or bought to be given a second chance?
Barcelona love to keep an eye on youngsters who leave the club for first team football and then bring them back. It doesn’t hurt that they have buy-back clauses on most of these kids either. This means they essentially become long-term premium loans with no risk on the part of Barcelona. Denis Suarez returned the previous year for a mere €2.5m. Deulofeu, after impressing at Milan, was a no-brainer for €12m. Quite what the plan was for him is another debate though.
“I want to stay. I’m very happy to have this opportunity that I’ve never had before, being in the first team.” For Deulofeu it represents the chance to succeed at the club of his dreams after mixed spells elsewhere. Yet for the club, was it a question of bringing a player in cheap and then offloading him next summer for profit? Or does Deulofeu have a genuine shot at making it there?
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“I’m staying for a year, that’s for sure.” Even before his return was made official, speculation suggested Barcelona were willing to ‘flip’ Deulofeu for profit. After a fantastic six months on loan at Milan he wasn’t short of suitors. However it soon became clear that he couldn’t be sold this summer. So the plan for him was always going to be a backup option but Dembele’s injury does open the door to a longer stay.
Six months to prove his worth
It’s no surprise to see a question mark hanging over Deulofeu’s future. His ‘new’ deal at Barcelona is essentially them taking on the remaining years of his contract at Everton, so it runs out in 2019. This means that Deulofeu has a season to prove his worth or he’ll be sold on before his price drops. A test or a sure-fire way to destroy someone’s confidence?
In amongst all of this it’s the crossroads someone like Deulofeu needs in his career. Despite being only 23 it feels like the guy has been around forever. While no one doubts Deulofeu’s talent, the issue has often been his attitude towards to learning. Luis Enrique loaned him to Sevilla and then subsequently sold him to Everton. He wasn’t convinced the player had the desire to listen to those trying to aid his development.
And for a lot of youngsters who burst onto the scene with a lot of hype surrounding them, it’s an easy trap to fall into. When the world is at your feet and you impress the masses, ego can take centre stage. But when you’re an unknown the pressure is lower. Once the opposition know your strengths, your weaknesses, you need to adapt your play so you don’t become predictable. Plan for the future, not simply live in the moment.
If Deulofeu can’t learn from Messi, he never will
It’s hard to argue with that assessment being true of Deulofeu either when you look at his career. Bright starts at almost every club he’s been at soon turn peter out. Before long they are happy for him to move on as well.
Maybe a return home, in familiar surroundings, will sort his head out and allow him to shine beyond the opening six months at a club. If not he’s destined to be one of those ‘Whatever happened to..?’ posts in a few years’ time.
And, in amongst the hype for Dembele, Deulofeu has actually started quite well at the Camp Nou. Two assists in the opening game of the season versus Real Betis should settle his nerves. He started the next two games and impressed against Getafe after replacing Dembele. It was his battling and drive that got the ball to Sergi Roberto who later pulled it back for Denis to guide home the equaliser.
The stage is yours.. until Christmas
We might never know the true intentions of Barcelona when it came to re-signing Deulofeu from Everton. However, how the story ends is down to the player himself. He wasn’t first choice but now he is. Until late December he has no natural replacement and with Ernesto Valverde preferring not to rotate, he could make it very difficult for Dembele to get back into the side once fit.
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It isn’t too late for Deulofeu to finally establish himself amongst the elite. He only needs to look at Denis Suarez, also 23, and Marco Llorente, 22, as inspirations. The next six months isn’t about Dembele but seeing if Deulofeu is ready to take the next step in his career. He needs to learn from past mistakes.
If we’re still talking about Dembele at Christmas then we’ll know he didn’t do enough. If not and Deulofeu is still the flavour of the week maybe Barcelona – and possibly Spain – will have yet another star.