After the eye-watering (potential) £61.5 million move for Anthony Martial was concluded in the summer the next French starlet to take Ligue 1 by storm has come from a familiar source.
Ousmane Dembele, 18, was born in Vernon, about 45 miles outside of Paris, and played in nearby Evreaux before transferring to the highly successful Stade Rennais youth system.
The Rennes club have an excellent track record for producing young stars such as former Arsenal attacker Sylvain Wiltord, and more recently Sunderland’s Yann M’Vila, Yacine Brahimi who plays for Porto in the Champions League and new Watford signing Abdoulaye Doucouré.
Dembele probably resembles Wiltord the most in his playing style, as he is able to play across the attacking line, the 5’8” forward making up for his lack of height with an abundance of pace.
Mikael Silvestre, the former Manchester United defender and now Rennais’ Chargé de Missions (Sporting Director), persuaded Dembele to stay on and sign a 3 year contract after the youngster expressed concerns over a lack of first team football. Patrick Vieira had even travelled over to sign him for Manchester City’s youth academy before the forward agreed a new deal.
The French U19 international, who also qualifies for Mali should he not be capped at a senior level by France, made his senior professional debut in November and has scored 9 goals in 17 Ligue 1 appearances since then, attracting the attention of Europe’s top clubs.
He has also caught the eye of French national team boss Didier Deschamps, who confirmed he has been watching Dembele for the past two years, although he admitted it may be too soon for him to be called up to the senior squad for Euro 2016.
To date, Liverpool, Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal and most notably, Barcelona have all been credited with an interest in the Rennes attacker. Silvestre has likened the young man to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Barcelona’s Technical Director Robert Fernandez and his assistant Urbano Ortega flew in from Catalonia to watch Dembele in Rennes league game against FC Nantes. He duly responded with his first senior hat trick.
Dembele has already expressed his interest in playing for the Blaugrana, admitting that it is “a dream” to play at the Nou Camp. But other sources claim that the youngster is aware of the benefits of first team football at his age after breaking into the Rennes team and wishes to stay in Ligue 1 for another season at least.
His form has not dipped after being thrust into the limelight following his exhilarating display against Nantes. Stade Rennais played Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday, coming back from two goals down at home to draw 2-2, largely down to the influence of Dembele.
He whipped a corner in for defender Fallou Diagne to score Rennes’ first, before finding himself in between Lyon’s centre-halves, breaking the offside trap and using his acceleration to break away and get a shot on goal. His effort was saved by Anthony Lopes but the rebound fell to half-time substitute Jeremie Boga who stuck it in the back of the net with the help of Lyon full back Rafael on the line.
Stade Rennais are not a club known to hang onto their best players, and rely on selling their diamonds in the rough to ensure the club remains self-sufficient. If he can continue racking up goals an assists, the figures (ranging between €10 and €30 million) being mentioned around his possible transfer could skyrocket.