Farewell, Ousmane Dembele, we hardly knew ye

That’s it for Ousmane Dembele, a player who arrived with so much promise, and leaves with that promise unfulfilled, talent that flashes like a beacon rending the night sky until it splutters into darkness, leaving everyone frustrated at the return of the night.

FC Barcelona, in effect, did what had been being threatened all along in sending Dembele to the stands and ending his career at the club. It’s a sad ending to a story that started with a grinning, willowy kid finally having arrived at his dream club. That it has ended like this isn’t anyone’s fault, even as it’s everyone’s fault. And there is no way out for anyone. Just gotta play out the ugly, avaricious string.

His agent was doing his job for his player, and still believes that. His job is to get the best deal possible, with the wishes of his client at the fore. He isn’t supposed to care about public opinion, or what anyone says. He has a job to do. Moussa Sissoko lost the battle as soon as he started reacting to things via media outlets, started making statements. As long as you’re quiet, you can preserve the illusion that maybe, just maybe, you might be being mistaken. Mouth opens, battle lost.

That he bluffed his client’s way out of the best job he is likely to have may or may not weigh heavily on him. Maybe it is just a question of money, rather than one of the biggest clubs in the world wanting to keep you, its new manager who has carte blanche finally using you in a role to which your are accustomed, one that suits your skill set. Maybe none of that matters. Maybe. Who knows. Maybe they got their bluff called and are now looking for a way to save face. Who knows.

The club, in sending him to the stands, did something that will make a lot — hell, almost all — supporters giddy. They showed him. Except it’s not quite that simple. Alemany said, in essence, that they want players who want to play for the club. Well, Dembele does, just not after June 1. By putting him in the stands and telling him to get out will likely create a contretemps that will involve lawyers at some point.

From the club’s perspective, the broken foot of Umtiti just as they were looking to try to move the player and his newly lowered salary somewhere on loan, was likely ringing in their ears. Dembele plays, gets hurt, they have to have him operated on, have to rehab him, only to have him leave in June. No way. So he sits. But unless they lock him out of training as well, there is still the possibility that he might suffer an injury in training, so how far the club is willing to go with this lockout is yet to be seen.

But make no mistake: Once the war of words spilled over into the press and people began throwing down gauntlets, it was never going to end well. Ever. And it hasn’t.

And the latest salvo in the war of words finds Dembele himself, a silent, seemingly happy-go-lucky figure for four years, saying in effect, everybody who’s been talking shit about me, been making up lies about me, been saying things about me that questioned my commitment and everything else, can go suck it.

Quite naturally, most of the people who have in fact been writing those things about him are outraged at the suggestion. Because that’s how it goes. “Lazy,” “stupid,” “unprofessional,” “doesn’t take care of himself,” “undisciplined” are all words that have been written about him, perceptions that have colored how people think about him. “Injured all the time,” “stealing money. His story has been rewritten by rotten luck with injuries, some snark from media sources and gullible supporters at a club that paid 140m for his services, full of hope. And that same club is now casting him aside. And truly, after that club cast aside its talisman in Lionel Messi, what chance did Dembele have in trying to call that same club’s bluff.

Dude bye, is what happened.

The shame of all of this is that it could have been avoided, it seems. The player could have accepted an offer — though who knows how much — for more money than most of the club’s supporters are ever going to see in their entire lives. And this is true even without knowing how much the club offered him, without knowing whether the rumored 12m/per salary he now (well, used to) earn is true. Let’s say it’s 10m. Still a crapton of money.

The agent could have handled everything better, not made it about money, ego and posturing. All negotiations are, but you never, ever get emotional about money, and doing your job. One of his quotes, after the rumor about Dembele being sent to the stands, was, “that won’t work with me.” Not for my player. Me. What choice did the club have but to call his bluff?

And what should the club have done, what can the club do? They can sit him, so that he never plays another match for Barça, in a World Cup year. “Want a chance to play for your country? Then get out.” It isn’t a good look. People will justify it because of animus toward the player, but it isn’t a good look. And what if the player, responding in kind to the animus, decides he’s fine with sitting out, becoming even more determined to leave on a free transfer? What option does the club have, legally, when an employee shows up for work every day, to perform a contractually stipulated job? That’s a rough spot to be in.

And here’s another thing that sucks. When Dembele was on, he was so much fun to watch. That he wasn’t on often enough or to a degree sufficient to satisfy the outsized expectations of the king’s ransom paid for him is beside the point. There would be those moments where he was electric, almost joyful in that unfettered way that immensely talented athletes go about their business. It sucks that we won’t see that unless we hate watch him at wherever he lands.

That won’t be me. For me, Ousmane Dembele is an ex-player. And like any ex-player, my interest in him ended when he chose to stop wearing blaugrana. And whether his decision or a decision he forced the club to make is immaterial. Actions have consequences. So much of this is sad, and angry, and it didn’t have to be. When Neymar left the club, he left with a relatively fresh renewal on the table, and earned the club 222m. It was about time for him to leave, and good on him. Snake? There was no good way to make that move, so you make it, take the heat and move on.

Dembele is leaving with a feeling that things are unfinished. He’s fit, in form, recovered from COVID and ready, just in time to be shown the door. He forced his way out of Rennes, forced his way out of Dortmund, so why should anyone be surprised at him forcing his way out of FC Barcelona as well. And that’s true even if that forcing out is in fact him being kicked out.

Everything about this is mean, stupid, greedy, ugly and unbecoming. That it’s also par for the course for the modern world of money-slaked horror that is modern football is … appropriate.