Football: Dembele ends speculation by sticking with Barcelona

Ousmane Dembele (right) with Barcelona President Joan Laporta after Dembele signed a two-year contract extension. PHOTO: FCBARCELONA/TWITTER

BARCELONA (AFP) - French international winger Ousmane Dembele, whose contract with Barcelona expired last month, ended six months of speculation by agreeing to "rejoin" the Catalan side, the club announced on Thursday (July 14).

"Staying at Barca was always my first choice," Dembele said on the pitch at Barcelona's training ground as he signed his two-year contract extension until June 2024.

The signing brings an end to a six-month soap opera about where the 25-year-old would be playing his football next season.

"It's been a long time coming, but now everyone is happy," said Dembele.

"I'm very happy, Barcelona has been my dream club since I was a child. I can't wait for the season to start so I can give it my all."

Dembele joined Barcelona in 2017 from Borussia Dortmund, but suffered a string of serious hamstring injuries.

"The first three years were not easy with injuries, but now I feel good with the team and the city and I have the confidence of everyone," he said.

Even though he scored only one league goal last season, the Catalan side were keen to keep a player who seemed revitalised following the appointment of Xavi Hernandez as coach, but talks appeared to break down.

In January, Xavi warned Dembele that he had to "extend" his contract or "leave" the club but the French World Cup winner warned he would not "give in to blackmail".

Last month, Sports daily Marca described the negotiations as a "dialogue between the deaf".

Paris Saint-Germain were strongly linked with a move to bring the former Rennes star back to France.

According to the press, Dembele agreed to lower his salary expectations to fit in with a club that remain in economic difficulties.

Barca, meanwhile, were able to move closer to his wage demands thanks to the €207.5 million (S$291.4 million) sale of 10 per cent of their audiovisual rights to the American company Sixth Street.

The club is, moreover, about to sell another 15 per cent for €330 million.

With the arrivals of Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen and Raphinha, the resolution of the Dembele affair marks the fourth good catch for the Catalan side this summer.

"My dream is to win the Champions League this year," said Dembele.

"I'm going to work hard on the pitch and hopefully it will be a great year for me and for Barca."

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