Dembele to fill Neymar's boots

Barcelona coach insists the French youngster will be an ideal replacement in attacking role

BARCELONA • Barcelona's record signing Ousmane Dembele will give the team the attacking presence they lost when they sold Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, coach Ernesto Valverde said on Friday.

Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund finally agreed a fee of around €105 million (S$169.8 million) plus bonuses on Friday after being locked in negotiations for weeks, during which the player was suspended by his club after failing to report for training.

The France international, 20, is Barca's second signing since the departure of Neymar for a world-record fee of €222 million earlier this month, with Brazil midfielder Paulinho also joining.

Valverde believes Dembele will restore sharpness to his side's attack.

"He's a player who guarantees an attacking threat, which is something we had lost and we badly need," Valverde said.

"He can play on either wing or through the middle, he gets forward a lot and is very technical. We expect a lot from him."

Dembele has been playing top-flight football for less than two full seasons but is Barca's record signing, his fee far outstripping the €81 million the club paid Liverpool for Luis Suarez in 2014.

He also replaces Real Madrid's Gareth Bale (€100.8 million) as the most expensive player in LaLiga.

"We know what things are like in this market as the deadline approaches and everything becomes disproportionate," Valverde added.

"It seems like every club is going to sign the most expensive player of all time now because the prices are so high after Neymar's transfer. But when a player is on the pitch they don't worry about how much they cost."

Dembele scored 10 goals in 49 matches last season and topped the Bundesliga's successful dribbles table, with 103.

The Frenchman has been attracting "Wunderkind" headlines with Dortmund since July last year when he ghosted past Manchester United's Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo before scoring an outrageous solo goal in the German team's 4-1 win on a pre-season tour of China.

Valverde highlighted Dembele's astonishing rise from the reserve team of Stade Rennes in France to Barcelona in under two years.

"His career is amazing. He was barely known only a few years ago but he's a real quality player," the coach said. "Barca have been interested in him for a while. We have invested a lot of hope in him and we hope he can give us a lot of happy moments."

Dembele, who will wear the No. 11 jersey, is expected to undergo medical tests today, when he will also officially sign his contract and be introduced in a ceremony at the team's Nou Camp stadium.

While Dembele is certainly a major score for Barcelona, the team may not be done pursing Philippe Coutinho, who Sky News reports remains unhappy at Liverpool.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Dembele to fill Neymar's boots'. Print Edition | Subscribe