LaLiga: Three reasons why Ousmane Dembele must play a key role this season for Barcelona
It was only last year when Barcelona made a certain 20-year-old fresh-faced Ousmane Dembele the second most expensive footballer in history after paying Borussia Dortmund £135.5m for his services.
It was a gargantuan step up for the talented French winger who just 12 months earlier was plying his trade with Nantes in Ligue 1. The move was largely unexpected, and Dembele must have felt the shock as much as the rest of us, failing to control his nerves in an embarrassing unveil at the Camp Nou where he failed to execute even the most basic of 'kick-ups'.
It got worse for the World Cup winner, as he ruptured his hamstring on his full La Liga debut against Getafe in September less than three weeks after his record-breaking transfer.
The injury cost him three months on the sideline, while another injury setback in January meant that Dembele ended his first full season at Camp Nou without the fans truly witnessing the best of his abilities.
Last season ended with doubts cast over his participation at the World Cup, although he ultimately partook in France's winning effort albeit with a limited contribution.
The summer arrival of Malcom for £36.5m from Bordeaux and Coutinho's club record signing from Liverpool for £142m last January further pushed Dembele down the pecking order, and there were strong indications that Barcelona were willing to count their losses and ship him off from the club.
Dembele reportedly expressed his displeasure at the club's decision to sign Malcom, and his agent suggested his client would leave Barcelona, but Ernesto Valverde expressed his desire to work with Dembele, and a change in the winger's situation was experienced.
Dembele has kicked off the season in spectacular fashion, scoring the winning goal of Barcelona's 2-1 Super Cup victory over Sevilla in Morocco, and played for 75 minutes before being replaced by new signing Arthur to a standing ovation in Barcelona's La Liga opening day 3-0 victory over Alaves at Camp Nou.
He was handed another start by Valverde on matchday 2 away to Real Valladolid, and repaid his coach's faith by scoring the winner after a beautifully placed finish off a headed cutback by Sergi Roberto in Barcelona's 1-0 victory.
The indications are there that Dembele could play a starring role this season, and here are three reasons why Valverde should place more responsibility on Dembele's young shoulders.
#3 The hunger to prove his mettle
Barcelona is unarguably one of the biggest clubs in the world, possessing numerous world class players who are among the best in their respective positions.
With 90 major trophies won, FC Barcelona is the most successful club in European footballing history, and all the historical records attached to the club ensures that any player who proves himself with the Blaugrana is guaranteed legendary status in the annals of football.
As stated earlier, a combination of factors with injuries being the most prominent one contrived to rob Ousmane Dembele of a productive debut season, and after one year at the club, the jury is still out on him over his effectiveness, as fans haven't seen enough to adequately judge his capabilities.
However, despite all his setbacks, Dembele is an extremely talented footballer, make no mistake about that; we saw evidence of this with his displays for Dortmund in the Bundesliga (which were convincing enough to make Barcelona shell out such a princely sum). There have also been sporadic flashes of it in his hampered Barca career.
Ousmane Dembele is very much a man on a mission, and this desire to prove himself at Barcelona could spark a hunger which would raise his performance levels, ultimately benefiting Barcelona if he is given a chance to fulfill his mission.