Let’s turn back the clock to the ancient pre-pandemic days of 2017. Neymar had just moved to PSG, FC Barcelona were flush with cash, and Borussia Dortmund were about to begin a new season with their star player, Ousmane Dembele. Then came the bombshell. Barca put in a mammoth 100m+ bid for the Frenchman. Dembele went AWOL and refused to train. The wheels were turning and there was nothing BVB could do except take the money.
“First of all, I must say that Borussia Dortmund has thus far acted very shrewdly and approached the matter very calmly. As a great club, and Dortmund is that now, you sometimes have to show strength. We would have handled it the same way.
The player is also at fault. If the player doesn’t go to practice, then he has to answer for that alone and cannot hide behind his agent. At some point the spectators won’t play along anymore. You cannot treat the players like gods, if they don’t behave like gods.
If Dortmund keep Dembélé, he will pick up the pace again [. . .] He will want to maintain his market value. Then this topic will quiet down again.”
Later, Hoeness also spoke about what Bayern would’ve done if Dembele had tried to pull a similar stunt at the club:
“We would ask the player, ‘Can you read until when you are under contract?’ And that would be the end of the discussion. Have you ever read about a player walking all over Bayern Munich? I would not have let Ousmane Dembélé go.”
Maybe Barca should’ve listened to Hoeness when he said this. Right now, the Catalans are involved in an ugly public dispute with the player, ironically over Dembele’s departure from the club. It’s the exact opposite of the situation with Dortmund, but the scenario is exactly the same — a player and his agent are taking full advantage of the leverage they have over a football club, and Barca are being forced to bend.
Of course, this new FC Barcelona board is quite different from the old one, so they’re not taking things lying down. They’ve released an official statement which basically amounts to a threat that Dembele will be benched for the remainder of his contract if he doesn’t leave immediately. However, that threat comes across as an empty one when:
- Dembele barely plays to begin with.
- He has only six months left on his contract, after which he can leave for free (and get a fat signing bonus at his new club).
Basically, Dembele holds the cards here. Hence why the player thought it appropriate to put up a half-hearted defense of himself on Instagram. If the Barca board hadn’t allowed themselves to be strung along by an agent for the last twelve months, maybe they could’ve sold or extended the Frenchman by now. But by letting it get to this point, they've surrendered any chance they could've had of salvaging this situation.
In a way, Dembele is doing exactly to Barcelona what he did to Borussia Dortmund and Rennes before them. This is the kind of player that is a nightmare to deal with — one that contributes nothing but demands everything. One of Dembele’s former BVB compatriots, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, has basically become the same thing at Arsenal. Right after extending his contract for ludicrously high wages, he basically decided to stop playing football.
In an era of player power, clubs need to be firm and act decisively to be able to deal with the machinations of agents. Now that Uli Hoeness has left the helm at Bayern Munich, hopefully our new-generation of executives carry on that mantle into the future.