Euro: Auba makes Barca debut in win over Atleti; Dortmund thrashed at home

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came off the bench to make a winning start to his Barcelona career as his new side produced a clinical performance to beat Atletico Madrid 4-2 and move into La Liga’s top four.

Barca, who saw off the champions by scoring four goals from their only four shots on target, dominated every part of the game from the beginning and were unperturbed when Yannick Carrasco opened the scoring on the counter eight minutes into the first half.

Jordi Alba got the equaliser two minutes later with a magnificent volley from a Dani Alves cross and Gavi headed Barca in front (21) after some neat play by Adama Traore, who was making his second debut for the club following his transfer from Wolves last month.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action for Barcelona
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action for Barcelona

Ronald Araujo extended the hosts’ lead before half-time (42), striking home on the rebound from inside the six-yard box after Gerard Pique’s header hit the bar.

Alves scored their fourth right after the break (49), smashing home a low shot from the edge of the box.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone made four substitutions and former Barca striker Luis Suarez reduced the deficit (58), heading a loose ball into the net from close range.

Aubameyang replaced Traore three minutes later to make his debut before Alves spoiled his man-of-the-match performance when he was given a straight red card for a poor challenge on Carrasco (69).

Despite being a man down, Barca held on to move above Atletico into fourth place in La Liga and extend their unbeaten run in the league to seven matches.

‘That’s the Barcelona we want to see’

Usually known for being rock-solid, Atletico’s defence has leaked 30 goals in 22 league games so far, five more than they conceded during their entire title-winning campaign last season.

Lacking their usual discipline and prone to mistakes, they have now let in the most goals of the top 10 La Liga sides and have won only three of their last 10 games in all competitions.

Barcelona exploited Atletico’s fragility on the flanks, with Alves and Traore both excelling for Xavi Hernandez’s much-improved side.

“Today we have seen the Barca that we want,” Alba told reporters.

“We have played with a lot of intensity, and it is a game to be very proud of in such a difficult year.”

Elsewhere in La Liga, Real Madrid extended their lead at the top to six points with a 1-0 win over struggling Granada. Marco Asensio got the game’s only goal.

Sixth-placed Villarreal beat third-placed Real Betis 2-0 thanks to goals late in either half from Pau Torres and Etienne Capoue.

Valencia‘s winless streak in the league reached five games after they were held by Real Sociedad to a 0-0 draw.

Bundesliga: Dortmund’s title hopes fade further with heavy defeat

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Highlights of the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen

Borussia Dortmund were thrashed 5-2 at home by Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga as their hopes of catching leaders Bayern Munich slipped yet further away.

The defeat left second-placed Dortmund on 43 points, nine behind Bayern after the champions beat RB Leipzig 3-2 on Saturday. Leverkusen stayed third but reduced the gap with Dortmund to five points.

The hosts got off to a nightmare start when they fell behind to a Manuel Akanji own goal in the 10th minute, but they soon levelled when Leverkusen’s Jeremie Frimpong also fired into his own net.

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Highlights of the Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig

Leverkusen restored their lead in the 20th minute through Florian Wirtz following a flowing counterattack and further increased their advantage with a sizzling free-kick from Robert Andrich in the 28th.

The visitors quickly killed off any hopes of a second-half revival from the hosts when Jonathan Tah slammed in a volley eight minutes after the interval.

Moussa Diaby compounded Dortmund’s misery by scoring the visitors’ fifth goal in the 87th minute although the hosts did manage to respond with a strike from Steffen Tigges in the 89th which was eventually awarded after a lengthy VAR review to check a possible offside.

Dortmund were missing their injured top scorer Erling Haaland and slumped to only their second home defeat in the league this season after losing to Bayern in December, having won all of their other home games in the campaign.

Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga
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Borussia Dortmund are nine points behind leaders Bayern Munich

In Sunday’s other game, Wolfsburg ended their 11-game winless streak across all competitions by beating bottom-of-the-table Greuther Fuerth 4-1 to move up to 12th.

Aster Vranckx scored a brace with Maximilian Arnold and Maximilian Philipp also on target. Branimir Hrgota scored Greuther Fuerth’s goal from the penalty spot.

Serie A: Napoli win to close gap at top to one point

Napoli moved into second place in Serie A with a 2-0 win at struggling Venezia on Sunday, as the gap between the top three teams was cut to a single point.

Goals from Victor Osimhen and Andrea Petagna in the second half ensured that Luciano Spalletti’s side took advantage of a rare slip-up by league leaders Inter Milan, who lost 2-1 to AC Milan on Saturday.

Napoli are second with 52 points, ahead of third-placed AC Milan on goal difference and one point behind champions Inter, who they face next in Naples next Saturday.

Napoli
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Napoli’s Victor Osimhen celebrates after scoring against Venezia

The race for the top four was blown wide open as fourth-placed Atalanta suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Cagliari, who climbed out of the relegation zone for the first time since September.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side went behind through a Gaston Pereiro strike before goalkeeper Juan Musso was sent off, and Pereiro scored again to win it for the Sardinians four minutes after Jose Luis Palomino had equalised.

Dusan Vlahovic and Denis Zakaria enjoyed dream Juventus debuts as the two January signings scored in a 2-0 win over Verona on Sunday, sending the Turin club two points above Atalanta into fourth place.

Serbia international Vlahovic opened the scoring with a perfectly weighted lob after 13 minutes. It was the 22-year-old’s 18th goal of the season, drawing him level with Lazio’s Ciro Immobile as the league’s joint-top scorer.

Things got even better for Massimiliano Allegri’s side after the break when deadline day arrival Zakaria sprinted forward from midfield to hammer a shot into the bottom corner.

Elsewhere, Sampdoria thrashed midtable Sassuolo 4-0 to go five points clear of the relegation zone, Bologna drew 0-0 with Empoli, and Udinese beat Torino 2-0.

Ligue 1: Nice miss chance to go second

Nice missed the chance to go second in Ligue 1 – and move into an automatic Champions League spot – when they lost 1-0 at home to struggling Clermont on Sunday.

Winger Elbasan Rashani scored for promoted Clermont in the 77th minute as Nice stayed one point behind second-placed Marseille.

The defeat means league leaders Paris Saint-Germain can move 13 points clear at the top with a win at defending champions Lille later on Sunday.

PSG drew away and lost at home to Lille last season without scoring a goal. Lille conceded only 23 goals during that campaign, but standout goalkeeper Mike Maignan’s departure to AC Milan has proved costly.

In Sunday’s other matches, Strasbourg continued their fine form by beating Nantes 1-0 at home to move into fourth spot and a Europa League place. Veteran midfielder Dimitri Lienard netted in the 73rd.

Rennes remain one back in fifth after winning 2-0 at home to Brest, with striker Gaetan Laborde and winger Martin Terrier grabbing their 11th league goals.

Reims routed Bordeaux 5-0, while the game between Troyes and Metz ended 0-0. Lorient beat Lens 2-0.

Auba: Arteta had a problem with me | Joining Barca ‘a dream’

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has confirmed a strained relationship with Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta contributed to his decision to join Barcelona on a free transfer.

The striker swapped north London for Catalonia on Deadline Day after being stripped of the captaincy at the Emirates in December following a disciplinary breach.

His late substitute appearance in the Gunners’ 2-1 defeat to Everton at Goodison Park on December 6 would, as it transpired, be his last for the club, given the apparent rift between the pair.

Speaking at his official unveiling at the Nou Camp, Aubameyang said: “I think it was a problem just with him [Arteta]. I can’t really tell you much. He wasn’t happy and that was it. I can’t say anything else because that’s what happened. I wasn’t very happy and I’m better this way.

“There were some complicated months. Sometimes football is like that. If I had to say something about this, I would say, on my behalf, I never wanted to do anything bad.

“Now I have to put this behind me, that is in the past. I want to think about the present.”

Given Barcelona’s ongoing financial issues, the 32-year-old is reported to have taken a significant pay cut to force the move through, which brought an end to his four-year association with Arsenal.

The move, however, appeared to be on the rocks at one point, when he arrived in the city before any official agreement between the two clubs was reached.

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Aubameyang will wear the No 25 shirt for Barca

“That was a very long, crazy day,” he added.

“I was with my dad at his house and I was just hoping that everything would work out well. They called me in the afternoon and said I could do the medical checks. I was a bit stressed, but everything was good in the end.

“It is true that I’ve not played for a little while, but in my head everything is very clear. I’ll be ready to play and help out soon. I know that we are going to go back to the top little by little.”

Leading the player’s unveiling in Auditorium 1899 was Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who suggested there would be a financial incentive for Aubameyang later down the line as a result of his salary sacrifice.

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Aubameyang expresses his excitement in joining Barcelona

He said: “Everything has worked very well with this transfer. We are signing a top player who wanted to come to Barca, who made an effort, a sacrifice, to come here, which we appreciate very much.

“Once we have a more healthy financial situation, we will help you as you are helping Barca now.

“We were working hard late in the night to finalise this transfer and until the last minute when the contract between him and Arsenal was in, as well as the one here at Barca to formalise this signing.

“I think we had a very good winter transfer window that was within the possibilities of the club.”

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Paul Merson tells Sky Sports News a move for Aubameyang from Arsenal to Barcelona ticks boxes for both clubs

Having signed a three-year deal, which includes an 18-month break clause, the Gabon international appears optimistic about his future and has targeted not only a return to the Champions League but lifting the trophy, too.

“Barca is a great club that has to win the Champions League, that’s why I came here,” he said. “I am here to do everything we can to get back into the Champions League and then go out and win it.

Dharmesh Sheth explains that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would prefer to stay in Europe should he leave Arsenal this January.
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Aubameyang had not featured for Arsenal since the 2-1 defeat to Everton on December 6 before his move to Barcelona

“I have always had the dream to play in La Liga; it is something I have dreamed of as a child. This is the opportunity of my life. Barca are one of the best clubs in the world so that is why I am here.

“Everything is really good. When I got here, I will tell you the truth, I felt really good. The people are really good. I’m really happy. It is like a dream and I’m not at all ready to wake up.

“I dream of playing here for a long time. I’m going to work very hard to keep playing as long as possible. I’m going to give everything I have got and I need to show my gratitude to the club. It is an honour for me to be here.”

Aubameyang: My target is Champions League football

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wants to lead Barcelona into the Champions League after officially joining the Spanish side on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Barcelona finally confirmed the signing of Aubameyang on Wednesday, despite the 32-year-old having trained with his new team-mates on Tuesday after agreeing a dramatic Deadline Day move to Spain from Arsenal.

The La Liga side have revealed he has an option to agree his departure on June 30, 2023, with an £83.4m release clause in his contract.

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Aubameyang expresses his excitement at joining Barcelona

Speaking in an interview on Barcelona’s official Twitter feed, Aubameyang made it clear what his aims were, having signed a deal until 2025.

“I’m very proud, especially because my family is Spanish from my mother’s side,” he said. “I’m really proud and happy to be here. My main goal is to help the team and give everything I can to bring the team back into the Champions League and stuff like that.

“I’m just happy to be here and I will try to give everything. It’s amazing to have him (Xavi) as a coach, he’s been a fantastic player as everyone knows and I’m sure as a coach he will bring us something that we will learn.”

An Arsenal statement on Tuesday night confirmed Aubameyang’s exit: “We wish Auba all the best for the next chapter in his career and thank him for his contribution to the club.”

Later on Tuesday evening, Aubameyang posted a goodbye message on social media: “To the Arsenal fans, thank you for making London home for myself and my family for the past four years.

“We went through ups and downs together and your support meant everything to me.

“Having the chance to win trophies and the honour of being the captain of this club is something I will forever keep in my heart.

“I have always been 100 per cent focused and committed on doing everything I can for this club which is why leaving without a real goodbye hurts – but that is football.

“I’m sad I did not get the chance to help my team-mates in the last few weeks, but I have nothing but respect for this club and truly wish all my guys and the fans all the best and many successful years in the future! Love, Auba.”

Aubameyang leaves Arsenal after four years at the club, having joined from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018 for a then club-record £60m fee.

Arsenal were willing to allow Aubameyang to leave after stripping him of the captaincy in December following a disciplinary issue.

He had not played for Arsenal since December 6, and was left out of their squad for their warm-weather training camp in Dubai.

The Gabon international, who scored 92 goals in 163 games for the Gunners and won the FA Cup in 2020, leaves the Emirates with 18 months left of his contract worth £350,000 a week.

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After Aubameyang completed a deal to join Barcelona, we take a look back at some of his best Premier League goals for Arsenal

The Premier League club are estimated to be making a saving of around £25m in wages with Aubameyang’s departure. But his exit means Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will finish the season with just two recognised strikers in his squad, with both Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette out of contract in the summer.

The deal for Aubameyang to join Barca had looked off earlier on Deadline Day after talks broke down over the financial part of the deal.

But it is understood that Aubameyang took a significant pay cut to facilitate the move.

Analysis: A risk for Arteta and Arsenal

Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol:

“This is a big risk by Mikel Arteta, because what happens if Aubameyang goes to Barcelona and scores a lot of goals?

“It just shows how much Arsenal are backing the judgement of their manager. Arteta is saying ‘I know he is our best goalscorer, he is the club captain, he is the highest earner at the club for disciplinary reasons l don’t want him at the club’. It’s a big, big call.

“I know he is leaving Arsenal under a bit of a cloud but there are also a lot of good memories. His ratio of goals to games is right up there with the great players.

“Arsenal supporters will say ‘we are weaker now than we were at the start of the window’. But in this instance, you have to back Mikel Arteta’s judgement – that is what the Arsenal owners are doing.”

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Kevin Campbell says Arsenal are playing ‘Russian roulette’ by not bringing in a new striker to replace Aubameyang

Analysis: Aubameyang had lost his way

Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:

“The drop in performance levels has been so great that it is probably worth reminding people that Aubameyang was a world-class striker for much of his time at Arsenal.

“Indeed, from the day of his debut for the club in February 2018 until the day of his double against Everton in February 2020, no player scored more Premier League goals. He scored 49 times in that period, the same as Mohamed Salah and a dozen more than Harry Kane.

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Former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor has his say on Aubameyang’s future and believes it is not the player with the issue, but the club

“There was a notable highlight after that when he scored twice in Arsenal’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea in the summer of 2020. But almost as soon as his new contract was signed that September, there has been a sense of decline, of a player whose best days are behind him.

“Stripped of the captaincy, too often the leadership has had to come from elsewhere. It is the young players driving Arsenal on under Mikel Arteta, not their best-paid player. That is a situation the club knows well having been through similar with Mesut Ozil. It cannot last.

“At 32, there will be hope that Aubameyang could yet recapture his best form, inspired by new surroundings and the challenge of restoring Barcelona to their former glories. At Arsenal, any regret will be tempered by the feeling that it is time for the club to move on.”

Merson: ‘Arsenal need a striker’

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Paul Merson tells Sky Sports News a move for Aubameyang from Arsenal to Barcelona ticks boxes for both clubs

Paul Merson told Sky Sports:

“If Alexandre Lacazette puts the open goal chance away against Burnley, it is job done and no one is moaning at all.

“Everyone would be talking about how good a result that would have been for Arsenal with a clean sheet too. It’s 1-0 to the Arsenal and everything is great. But he misses an open goal and all of a sudden, they have only scored one goal in January, which came in their best performance by a mile.

“That’s the problem Arsenal have. You are not going to win too much without a centre forward.

“I know people will say Manchester City do, but they still have to win the Champions League playing with a false nine. They also have superstars all over the pitch and are probably the only team in the world that could do that.

“So, Arsenal need a centre forward.”

Smith: Sad way for Auba’s Arsenal career to end

Alan Smith told Sky Sports:

It is sad how Aubameyang’s time at Arsenal has ended but it is something that tends to happen a bit more in football these days.

He was a top-quality striker and at the time of his contract renewal, I do not think Arsenal could have done anything else but to have given him that new deal.

He was the top man at the club, a brilliant finisher and he was the envy of so many top clubs in the world. So, Arsenal wanted to keep hold of him and that was the right thing to do.

But his form fell off a cliff, basically. We all point to that new contract as to whether it made a difference but only he can answer that. Did his appetite go? Did he rest on his laurels? I don’t know but it is a sad way for his Arsenal career to end.

He is not particularly old and he should have some more good years left in him. We will see what happens at Barcelona, but it is disappointing that Arsenal have to let go of a player with that ability.

However, in business and in football you have got to make these difficult calls, and Arsenal have done that.

Follow Arsenal with Sky Sports

Follow every Arsenal game in the Premier League this season with our live blogs on the Sky Sports website and app, and watch match highlights for free shortly after full-time.

Want the Arsenal latest? Bookmark our Arsenal news page, check out Arsenal’s fixtures and Arsenal’s latest results, watch Arsenal goals and video, keep track of the Premier League table and see which Arsenal games are coming up live on Sky Sports.

Get all this and more – including notifications sent straight to your phone – by downloading the Sky Sports Scores app and setting Arsenal as your favourite team.

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Aubameyang completes free transfer to Barcelona

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has signed for Barcelona on a free transfer from Arsenal.

Arsenal became willing to allow the 32-year-old to leave after stripping him of the captaincy in December following a disciplinary issue.

The 32-year-old did not play for the club after December 6, and was left out of their squad for their warm-weather training camp in Dubai.

Aubameyang, who scored 92 goals in 163 games for the Gunners, leaves the Emirates Stadium inside the final 18 months of a contract worth £350,000 a week.

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We take a look back at some of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s best Premier League goals for Arsenal

The Premier League club are estimated to be making a saving of around £25m in wages with Aubameyang’s departure. But his exit means Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta’s will finish the season with just two recognised strikers in his squad, with both Eddie Nketiah and Alex Lacazette out of contract in the summer.

The deal had looked off earlier on Deadline Day after talks broke down over the financial part of the deal.

But it is understood that Aubameyang, who flew out to Barcelona on Monday morning, took a significant pay cut to facilitate the move.

Analysis: A risk for Arteta and Arsenal

Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol:

“This is a big risk by Mikel Arteta because what happens if Aubameyang goes to Barcelona and scores a lot of goals?

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Kevin Campbell says Arsenal are playing ‘Russian roulette’ by not bringing in a new striker to replace Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang

“It just shows how much Arsenal are backing the judgement of their manager. Arteta is saying ‘I know he is our best goalscorer, he is the club captain, he is the highest earner at the club for disciplinary reasons l don’t want him at the club’. It’s a big, big call.

“I know he is leaving Arsenal under a bit of a cloud but there are also a lot of good memories. His ratio of goals to games is right up there with the great players.

“Arsenal supporters will say ‘we are weaker now than we were at the start of the window’. But in this instance, you have to back Mikel Arteta’s judgement – that is what the Arsenal owners are doing.”

Analysis: Aubameyang had lost his way

Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:

“The drop in performance levels has been so great that it is probably worth reminding people that Aubameyang was a world-class striker for much of his time at Arsenal.

“Indeed, from the day of his debut for the club in February 2018 until the day of his double against Everton in February 2020, no player scored more Premier League goals. He scored 49 times in that period, the same as Mohamed Salah and a dozen more than Harry Kane.

“There was a notable highlight after that when he scored twice in Arsenal’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea in the summer of 2020. But almost as soon as his new contract was signed that September, there has been a sense of decline, of a player whose best days are behind him.

“Stripped of the captaincy, too often the leadership has had to come from elsewhere. It is the young players driving Arsenal on under Mikel Arteta, not their best-paid player. That is a situation the club knows well having been through similar with Mesut Ozil. It cannot last.

“At 32, there will be hope that Aubameyang could yet recapture his best form, inspired by new surroundings and the challenge of restoring Barcelona to their former glories. At Arsenal, any regret will be tempered by the feeling that it is time for the club to move on.”

Merson: ‘Arsenal need a striker’

Paul Merson told Sky Sports:

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Paul Merson tells Sky Sports News that a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Arsenal to Barcelona ticks boxes for both clubs.

“If Alexandre Lacazette puts the open goal chance away against Burnley, it is job done and no one is moaning at all.

“Everyone would be talking about how good a result that would have been for Arsenal with a clean sheet too. It’s 1-0 to the Arsenal and everything is great. But he misses an open goal and all of a sudden, they have only scored one goal in January, which came in their best performance by a mile.

“That’s the problem Arsenal have. You are not going to win too much without a centre forward.

“I know people will say Manchester City do, but they still have to win the Champions League playing with a false nine. They also have superstars all over the pitch and are probably the only team in the world that could do that.

“So, Arsenal need a centre forward.”

Follow Arsenal with Sky Sports

Follow every Arsenal game in the Premier League this season with our live blogs on the Sky Sports website and app, and watch match highlights for free shortly after full-time.

Want the Arsenal latest? Bookmark our Arsenal news page, check out Arsenal’s fixtures and Arsenal’s latest results, watch Arsenal goals and video, keep track of the Premier League table and see which Arsenal games are coming up live on Sky Sports.

Get all this and more – including notifications sent straight to your phone – by downloading the Sky Sports Scores app and setting Arsenal as your favourite team.

Hear the best Premier League reaction and expert analysis with the Essential Football and Gary Neville podcasts, keep up-to-date with our dedicated Transfer Centre, follow the Sky Sports social accounts on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, and find out how to get Sky Sports.

Where did it go wrong for Barca’s £97m man Dembele?

In 2017, Ousmane Dembele became the second most expensive player in the world. Four years on, he faces being frozen out of the last six months of his Barcelona contract.

When the 24-year-old arrived at the Nou Camp, he did so as one of football’s hottest young prospects. But his spell at Barcelona has lurched from one issue to another, blighted by injury, inconsistency and attitude problems, to the point where the relationship between the two sides has totally disintegrated.

Without a new home found in the January transfer window, Dembele now faces the prospect of seeing out the final months of his five-year contract exiled from the first-team squad. He was told by officials he would not play for the club again last week as a result of contract talks stalling over a new deal, and took to Instagram to hit out against “blackmail” before also firing back at accusations he had not been committed to Barca.

There was a time when Dembele was regarded as one of the game’s brightest talents with the world at his feet. “Dembele is a better player than Neymar,” insisted Josep Maria Bartomeu, then club president, in 2019. “He’s at Barca, and he is better.”

The financial power in European football was shifting by the time Bartomeu had broken Barcelona’s transfer record in 2017 to sign the promising French 20-year-old from Borussia Dortmund for a fee just shy of £100m.

Dembele’s move to the Nou Camp would’ve been the most expensive transfer in history but for the deal which set his move in motion. Earlier, that same summer, PSG’s eye-watering capture to bring Barca’s Neymar to France for £198m – almost £100m more than the Frenchman – set an almost unimaginable ceiling of wealth for other clubs to attempt to match.

It marked a concerning mirror for Barca. In 2003 they had spent €30m to sign Ronaldinho from PSG, with the Spanish giants able to pluck one of the best players in the world from France with their stature and rich history.

Losing Neymar was not the exact moment the relationship between both clubs shifted, but it was symbolic. And Bartemou, whose reign would be defined by his obsession with public approval fuelled by lavish spending levels which would financially cripple the club, felt compelled to act.

“Everyone was waiting for Barcelona’s reaction,” Carles Rupierez, of Catalonian newspaper La Vanguardia, told Sky Sports. “They could not be seen to sit by idly. At the time, Klopp was not selling [Philippe] Coutinho, and knowing how much Barca had made from Neymar, Dortmund were never going to let Dembele go on the cheap.

“In the end, they ended up paying a surcharge for him, knowing full well he was not worth that amount.”

There’s a certain irony that four and a half years on, with Dembele’s spell a relative disaster and with considerably fewer La Liga starts than millions of pounds spent on him, PSG were so interested in a Deadline Day move to take on the Barcelona cast-off and save them paying his final six months of unwanted wages.

Chelsea are also eyeing up a summer move, but that still leaves a potential solution almost half a year away.

It didn’t have to end like this. Even though Barca paid over the odds in 2017, they were still signing one of Europe’s hottest young talents, whose huge potential is still waiting to be realised.

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Dembele will stay at Barcelona despite late interest from Chelsea.

“Extreme-speed runs, wonderful dribbles, Ousmane Dembele has long won the hearts of Dortmund,” wrote German newspaper Bild in January 2017, only six months after he had joined them from Ligue 1 side Rennes, with Europe’s elite beginning to cast their eye on this lightning-quick, skilful youngster.

A goal and an assist in the German Cup semi-final win over Bayern Munich in April only heightened the buzz around his potential. So did his opener in the final. But by the time Barcelona were convinced to break their transfer record to sign him, the same red flags which would hamper his career at the Nou Camp were already waving high.

“It is not that Ous is making fun of us, he simply declines to do his job,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke after the Frenchman went on strike to force through his move to Spain. “We met up with Barca officials one day and our valuations were very far apart. The next, he failed to turn up for training – the timing of these events is very curious.”

Although that defiance would play a part in Dembele’s downfall in La Liga, other issues outside the control of either the player or club have worked to blight his time at Barcelona.

Injuries have followed him around like a shadow since the day he touched down at El Prat Airport. Barely three weeks after signing for the club, he was left in a wheelchair after rupturing a thigh during his first league start and did not feature again for nearly four months.

Over time, things would only get worse. Prolonged hamstring issues would come to a head in 2019/20, when Dembele was only fit enough to feature nine times all season for club or country.

However, that only served to make the frustration all the worse that when he was available, the flying French winger never came close to fulfilling his obvious potential.

“The injuries have weighed on him in that he has missed so many games,” said Rupierez. “But it is not just that. When he has been able to play, he has produced so few memorable performances, or games where he has saved the team.

“He shone in the Spanish Super Cup in 2018, and scored a wonderful goal against Valladolid in April last year. But there is little more to remember.”

Those red flags have a lot to do with it. Ever since he was thrust into the spotlight of both playing for Barcelona and the mammoth price tag now associated with him, Dembele found himself in the news more regularly for his off-the-field exploits than anything he has done on the pitch.

Spanish newspaper AS lifted the lid on his issues in November 2018, revealing his absence from Barca’s defeat to Real Betis the previous week had not been due to a stomach bug, as they had publicly announced, but because he had missed training after staying up all night playing video games with his friends.

“Barcelona fear his gaming disorder is ruining his career at the club,” it wrote. It would not be the last story to question his commitment, with further leaks suggesting he had fired the chef laid on for him by the club in favour of a fast-food diet which was doing little to help with his fitness issues.

The press reports wouldn’t stop. In 2019, news of yet another hamstring lay-off was compounded with suggestions Dembele had not told Barcelona about the injury, and exacerbated the problem by spending a night sleeping on an airport sofa on his way to Senegal.

“He shone in the Spanish Super Cup in 2018, and scored a wonderful goal against Valladolid in April last year. But there is little more to remember.”

Journalist Carles Rupierez on Dembele’s Barcelona spell

The player himself has consistently denied any serious wrongdoing. In a rare public interview, he admitted he had “made some mistakes” but denied an obsession with unhealthy eating or video games.

Perhaps the full truth will never come out, but the fact of Barcelona’s £97m investment leaving under such a cloud will remain a source of embarrassment for both the player and the club.

“All of the coaches who he has worked under have thought they could turn him around, because he has such quality,” Rupierez said. “At times he has seemed that football is not his priority. He does not understand that the demand in Barcelona is not that of Rennes or Borussia.”

Can he finally reach the levels he promised when racing down the wing at the Westfalenstadion, the potential which convinced Barcelona to spend so much on him? “That’s the million-dollar question,” he added. “His potential is right up there, and we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.”

Dembele’s career risks sinking like the Titanic after a troubled spell at Barcelona – and with a bleak second half of the season ahead for the Frenchman, time will tell how, and if, he can finally steer his career back on track.