“Dembele guarantees depth. That’s something that we’ve lost and that’s something that we need,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said at a Friday afternoon news conference, referring to Neymar’s transfer. “He plays on both sides of attack and can also play as a center forward, so he brings a lot of possibilities. He’s very fast. He plays deep. He’s skillful and we’re hoping he can bring a lot of things to us. We’re very excited about this signing.”
Dembele, 20, will wear No. 11 after he arrives from Germany on Sunday. He’s expected to undergo medical tests on Monday, when he’ll also officially sign his contract and be introduced in a ceremony at the team’s Camp Nou stadium.
Barcelona was quick to release details of Dembele’s contract, including his astronomically high buyout clause, which should prevent him from leaving the way Neymar did. Any team pursuing Dembele in the five years of his contract will have to cough up more than $400 million. Neymar’s buyout clause totaled around $263 million.
Dembele is expected to make immediate impact on the team, which became notably weaker when Neymar left. Barcelona’s fellow Frenchman Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne, with whom Dembele’s played on the French national team, were quick to welcome their new teammate on social media.
Last season, Dembele scored 10 goals and managed 20 assists in 49 matches. This season, however, Dembele hasn’t seen much field time. Dortmund suspended Dembele indefinitely in early August after the player skipped practice amid tense negotiations with Barcelona. Many saw Dembele’s actions as a means of protesting the Bundesliga’s resistance to Barcelona’s overtures.
Barcelona first approached Dortmund with an offer of just over $100 million for Dembele, according to ESPN FC, but was rebuffed by the German side, which reportedly wanted no less than $140 million. Negotiations appeared to be at a standstill as Barcelona approached other players, including Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, whom the Premier League squad refused to give up, and fellow Brazilian Paulinho, whom the team acquired for earlier this month from China’s Guangzhou Evergrande. (Paulinho, a midfielder, however, was never meant to replace Neymar.) Barcelona was able to successfully reignite its offer on Thursday, however, when Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu met face-to-face with Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke at the Champions League draw in Monaco.
While Dembele is certainly a major score for Barcelona, the team may not be done pursing Coutinho, who Sky News reports remains unhappy at Liverpool and hopes to transfer to the La Liga team. Barcelona reportedly still has an offer on the table of nearly $180 million for the Brazilian.