Ousmane Dembélé, Neymar, and the importance of letting go

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JULY 29: Ousmane Dembélé #7 of FC Barcelona shoots the ball during the first half of the pre-season friendly match against Real Madrid at AT&T Stadium on July 29, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JULY 29: Ousmane Dembélé #7 of FC Barcelona shoots the ball during the first half of the pre-season friendly match against Real Madrid at AT&T Stadium on July 29, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images) /

With the departure of Ousmane Dembélé to PSG, there’s been an intense amount of discussion and debate about the manner of his departure. Some within the fanbase of FC Barcelona are lamenting the loss of a player of his profile, some are completely disgusted with the whole thing, and some are just over it already and want to move on. But really, I think the whole saga speaks to a different issue: the difficulty of letting go.

The way we feel about Dembélé’s exit

Dembélé was a good player for the Catalans – not great, but good. It’s true that his pace, dribbling, and ability to breeze past defenders made him important to the team. Xavi especially needed a player like that, with the ability to play vertically. It makes a 4-4-2 much more tenable against stronger sides, and gave them the ability to counterattack more effectively.

However, no one can deny that the French winger lost too many balls, misplaced too many passes, and had poor finishing at times. His end product frustrated many fans, and although his stats were always good, it was clear to see there was unmet potential. Xavi said many times that Dembélé was one of the best wingers in world football. That wasn’t true. It certainly could’ve been, but it never ended up quite being true.

Not to mention, his inability to string together multiple seasons of healthy football.

Fans are upset, to say the least. Many are publicly rejoicing at his exit, but I think there is an element of that wasted potential in their joy. If it was a player of a lower level that had suffered those injuries or squandered so many chances, there wouldn’t be as much vitriol as there is now against him. To many culers, Ousmane is now a snake that betrayed Xavi’s trust and left solely for money.

Remember Ilaix Moriba? The way he left the club was similarly…. complicated. He made unreasonable demands, left to Leipzig, and now only the most avid fans will remember much about him. Even at that time, there was nowhere near the outcry that Dembélé is producing. And the reason for that is very simple – Moriba wasn’t as good or exciting as Ousmane was, and he didn’t have the same obvious potential. Dembélé haters, deep down, have to admit that they’re a little bit hurt by this development (even if they will never actually admit it). If not, they wouldn’t care this much.

Even the official Barcelona account seems to be icy at best with the way they announced the news:

Notice the wording there as well. He severed ties with us, they’re saying. It was his fault he left.

It’s important to remember that he, like any player, is making the decision he feels is best for his career. I doubt he had any ill will toward Barcelona. Laporta and the board actually ended up receiving €35M instead of the €25M the media expected, which is good on his part. Could he have handled it better? Maybe. Definitely. But he’s a person, and people make decisions that not everyone agrees with.

It’s been somewhat distressing to see the reaction on social media to this news. In my opinion, the old Johan Cruyff quote rings true: “If you have second thoughts on playing for Barcelona, you are no longer of service to us.” If this is true, then culers are entitled to their day or two of bashing Dembélé on social media. But soon after, we’ll have to let go and move on. We shouldn’t have second thoughts about him either, or devolve into name-calling, or go too far with the hospital jokes. The fanbase needs to be mature about this, and be the bigger “person”.

If Barcelona truly is meant to be Més Que un Club, then its values have to matter. And we have to strive to reflect that in our discourse.

The arrival of Neymar?

Another thrilling bit of the summer transfer window has been the possible return of Neymar. This bit of news and the way fans have reacted to it point to another aspect of letting go: nostalgia.

The way the Brazilian would fit into the team, for me, raises more questions than answers. He would bring creativity going forward, for sure. He could play as a winger or a midfielder, and he is still elite when it comes to creating chances. He would also bring an economic boost when it came to marketing and ticket sales.

But the list of cons is concerning. For one, Xavi seems not to want him, citing the fit in the locker room and the negative impact he could potentially have on the youngsters.

He’s also no better than Dembélé when it comes to health. He’s missed over 100 matches in total since joining PSG, with little nagging injuries piling up. Luis Enrique also reportedly doesn’t want the winger anymore. The same Enrique that won everything with Neymar when they were both in the Catalan capital. That has to mean something.

Tactically, he doesn’t fit perfectly either. He isn’t as much of a winger anymore, due to age and injury, so he’d play more centrally. He’s not quite as quick as he used to be. He’d likely have to bench someone like Gavi. Gavi is extremely important for Xavi’s system defensively, because he can press high and win back balls like a monster. Neymar isn’t doing that, and neither is Pedri or Frenkie de Jong. So would Gavi’s growth be stunted? What about Ansu Fati’s? Would they have to sell Ansu in order to incorporate Neymar? What if we add João Cancelo? Will the defense suffer with him and Neymar in together?

So why do some fans want him back? Don’t get me wrong, plenty don’t. Many put him in the same category of snake as they do Ousmane. But for those that do, I believe a big part of the reason is the nostalgia. They remember the good times Neymar had with Barça. He was absolutely phenomenal back then – but he isn’t the same player anymore. Not quite. And it’d be expensive to get him back, in more ways than one.

We as a fanbase have to let go of the old and start focusing more on the new. Forget Dembélé, and forget Neymar. Not in a toxic way, but in a forward-looking way. Let’s go into this new season with high hopes. If the team don’t show the improvement they’re looking for, they can revisit their decisions next summer. Regardless, FC Barcelona is a massive club – and they’ll be just fine without holding on to the past. And so will we.

Xavi close to sealing a priority target for Barcelona. dark. Next

What do you think about all this? Let us know in the comments below.