If England are to get past France tomorrow, they must put the brakes on the lightning attacker who was sold for more than £100million after barely two seasons of senior football.
And of course, they will need to keep an eye on Kylian Mbappe, too. Watching Mbappe, it would be easy to think that if you stop him, you stop the world champions. With Ousmane Dembele on the opposite flank, it would also be extremely foolish.
England have got several threats to worry about in their World Cup quarter-final on Saturday – everyone is aware of Kylian Mbappe but Ousmane Dembele (above) is going under the radar.
Indeed, in a recent documentary series about Bayern Munich, forward Serge Gnabry said: “The best player between Dembele and Mbappe? For me, it’s Dembele.”
At 25, Dembele is two years older than Mbappe but after a difficult period in his career, he is finding his best form again. He is quick, skilful and as comfortable on his left foot as on his right.
There was just as much excitement about the young Dembele, who made his debut at 17 for Rennes, as there was about Mbappe in his early days. Within two seasons of his senior breakthrough, he had joined Barcelona for a deal worth up to £135.5m, via a single season at Borussia Dortmund.
That summer, Mbappe joined Paris Saint-Germain following a breakthrough year at Monaco. The stage seemed set for these two youngsters to dominate for a decade. Yet although Mbappe thrived in Paris, Dembele could not emulate him. He suffered with hamstring problems and did not play between November 2019 and September 2020.
The injuries were not the only issue for Dembele, however. His timekeeping drove his coaches to distraction.
“You could see his talent but he wasn’t professional enough,” says Spanish football expert Terry Gibson, the former Tottenham forward. “But that changed when Xavi took over as boss a year ago. Since then, there have been no silly stories about him.
“On the pitch, he finds the very difficult things easy, and the easy things difficult. He’ll beat three players but then smash a five-yard pass at a team-mate. And he is as likely to score a screamer from 25 yards with his left foot as with his right.”
For much of last season, Dembele looked certain to leave Barcelona on a free transfer. Yet Xavi made him feel important, Dembele eventually agreed a new two-year deal, and he has produced nine goals and assists in La Liga already this term.
“Dembele can be just as effective as Mbappe,” adds Gibson. “He can be unplayable at times. He has been OK in the tournament but I feel there is more to come from him. I just hope it doesn’t happen against England.”
- A Daily Mail report