Ousmane Dembélé winning friends in high places before Barcelona debut

Ousmane Dembélé 97m transfer has got Barcelona excited and now Mauritanias president wants to meet the forward after his move from Borussia Dortmund

Of all the requests received by Ousmane Dembélé in the fortnight since he became one of the most expensive players in history, there is one that stands out.

The day after the move to Barcelona was confirmed, an adviser of the president of the republic, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, contacted me because the president wants to invite Ousmane to Mauritania, says the journalist Lassana Camara, who founded the website Mauritanie Foot.

He is also a big supporter of Bara and there is a real sense of pride to see a child from Mauritania reach the summit. Many young Mauritanians will identify with Dembl and his meteoric progression in just two years he has gone from the youth team at Rennes to one of the best clubs in the world. His example is an inspiration for our country.

On Saturday, Dembélé is expected to make his debut in the Catalan derby against Espanyol as he begins the next stage of a rapidly burgeoning career that has seen the forward swap the French fifth division for La Liga in less than two years. But while Barcelonas culs fans anxiously wait to see whether the player dubbed le moustique (the mosquito)by club and international team-mate Samuel Umtiti can successfully fill Neymars boots after his 198m move to Paris Saint-Germain, there will always be one village in the sand-swept nation of Mauritania where Dembl can do no wrong.

Situatedon the border with Senegal where the Sahel meets sub-Saharan Africa, at the last count Waly Diantang had only 8,000 inhabitants due to the large numbers of migration to the rest of Africa, Europe and beyond. Three decades ago, like thousands of Mauritanians attempting to escape one of the worlds poorest countries and the last to legally abolish slavery in 2007 Dembls mother Fatimata Sy and her family made the move to France in search of a better life. They eventually settled in Vernon a small town situated on the banks of the river Seine, midway between Paris and Rouen and, in May 1997, Fatimata gave birth to her first child.

Three younger siblings two sisters and one brother followed Ousmane but when his Malian father, Ousmane Sr, left the family home, Fatimata was forced to bring up her children alone. She is the pivot of the family and always believed her son would be star, says Camara, who first met Dembl in 2012.

Fatimata would accompany Ousmane to training every day as well as raising the children alone by doing odd jobs to support them all. Family has always played an important role in his progression.

As well as training with local youth side vreux before being snapped up by Rennes in 2010, part of his development included regular trips to visit relatives in Waly Diantang, where the young prospect quickly made a name for himself thanks to his exploits in Frances youth leagues. Despite her son attracting the attention of Barcelona and the rest of Europes big hitters by the age of 15, Fatimata, who had moved the entire family to Brittany only two years earlier, insisted he would be best served staying put.

That decision paid dividends when 12 goals in 26 Ligue 1 matches for Rennes in the 2015-16 season prompted Borussia Dortmund to beat off competition from Liverpool to pay around 13m for one of footballs most promising talents, a price tag that could eventually be multiplied by 10 should Dembl fulfil a number of performance-related clauses on top of the initial 97m fee paid by Barcelona at the end of last month. But while the transfer made headlines around the world, that was nothing compared to the response in his mothers homeland.

Abdel Aziz, who has held power since 2009, was once forced to deny demandinga penalty shootout in the 63rd minute of the domestic 2015 Super Cup final because he was bored, yet there are signs Les Mourabitounes are making progress on the pitch. A 1-0 victory over Botswana in their opening qualifier in June means they have every chance of reaching the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the first time, in 2019, while they have already secured a place in next years African Nations Championship, which is reserved for players who ply their trade in African leagues.

Yet for now, despite the decision to commit his international future to France, having represented Les Bleus at various youth levels, all eyes will be on Dembl.

I think Ousmane will succeed because he has the talent to flourish, insists Camara. I have known him since he was 15 he is a disciplined, calm child who doesnt speak much outside the field and is almost like a guitarist with the ball.

At the time, I would regularly call up youth teams in France to see if they have any players with Mauritanian heritage. It was the journalist Mohamet Traor, who runs the site Malifootball.com, who first told me about this future pearl because his agent had told him that he is a Mauritanian. Since that day I have followed his career very closely.

He is not the only one. A series of interviews over the international break with various Catalan newspapers has illustrated exactly how much scrutiny the new arrival will be under when he runs out at the Camp Nou on Saturday. Dembl is a kid of 20 years who has just landed on an unknown planet, wrote Albert Masnou in Sport. To ease the transition, he is expected to be joined in Barcelona by childhood friend and fellow professional Mustapha Diatta, who also followed Dembl to Dortmund last summer and accompanied the family for his unveiling last weekend the first time he had ever visited the famous old stadium.

This time, however, Fatimata will not be with them after it was decided her son should start living on his own. With a minimum annual salary of 12m which could rise to as much as 20m with bonuses, finding suitable accommodation will certainly not be a problem. Settling in to life in the spotlight at a club he has supported since watching Andrs Iniestas goal against Chelsea in the 2009 Champions League semi-final may not be as easy, although Dembl said last week he has already made progress with learning Spanish by watching episodes of the television series Narcos.

The presence of Umtiti and France team-mate Lucas Digne in Barcelonas squad should also ease the adaptation process into a Bara side who spent last season in the shadow of their great rivals, Real Madrid. If Dembl can reproduce the form he showed at Dortmund last season under Thomas Tuchel which yielded 11 goals and 20 assists in all competitions, they should have a good chance of at least competing with Cristiano Ronaldo and co.

Perhaps the only question mark against him is the way it all ended at Dortmund. Frustrated by the decision to reject Barcelonas opening offer of 100m, Dembl went awol the day after he had been pictured looking decidedly peeved at the clubs open day and returned to his familys home in France in protest.

I was relaxed I knew I had to have patience, he admitted last week. I decided to stop going to training. I didnt want to go. I looked for an excuse not to go. If it didnt work out and I hadnt done my part to get the move to Bara, now I would be lamenting the fact I wasnt here.

In the end, of course, his wish was finally granted. But according to Camara, the real hard work starts now. Ousmane has always dreamed of playing for Bara and now the dream has come true, he says. He must no longer dream but realise onthepitch the hopes placed in him.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/sep/06/ousmane-dembele-humble-barcelona-debut

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