Amid confirmation of Barcelona’s capture of Raphinha, it is quite easy to overlook the club’s success in extending the contract of Ousmane Dembele.
The Frenchman was almost on the verge of leaving Camp Nou but is now poised to pen a new two-year deal with the club. Although the extension has not yet been made official, Dembele signing a new deal could put an end to a gripping saga that had left the board occupied for more than half a year.
The unreasonable demands
It all started at the end of 2021 when Barcelona approached Dembele just before the January window, in an attempt to extend his contract that was set to expire at the culmination of the 2021/22 campaign.
But the attacker’s agent held out for astonishing wage demands, reaching up to €40 million gross, which made it almost impossible for Barça to match, especially under the club’s more stringent wage structure under the management of Joan Laporta.
Sporting director Mateu Alemany, who had expressed his confidence about Dembele’s renewal, even publicly announced the player’s decision not to accept the proposal that was tabled by the club, as his camp held on to their outrageous demands.
The situation eventually left the Barça board frustrated, compelling them to force his sale in the January transfer window, in an attempt to generate revenue before the attacker leaves the club for free in the summer.
However, despite interest from Chelsea and other top clubs across Europe, Dembele refused to leave Camp Nou, knowing he will have the possibility of earning a much bigger paycheck if he leaves the club as a free agent.
As such, the Frenchman remained at Camp Nou. At the time, rumors were rife that he was going to be benched for the remainder of the campaign, but that was when Xavi stepped in.
The Barcelona boss had great faith in Dembele and opted to use his qualities for the rest of the season. His gamble with the attacker paid off as well, as the former Borussia Dortmund winger emerged as one of Barça’s best players during the second half of the campaign.
Dembele ended the season as Barça’s assist leader, with a total of 13 assists in just 21 league matches. His blazing performances eventually convinced the board to once again kickstart negotiations over a contract extension and even reaffirmed the faith of fans.
However, despite months of negotiations, the two parties were unable to meet an agreement, particularly due to the demands of Dembele’s agent, Moussa Sissoko. He eventually became a free agent on July 1, hoping some other European giant may snap him up ahead of the new season.
While Chelsea were interested, they were reluctant to meet the attacker’s high wages. The Blues ended up favoring a move for Raheem Sterling whereas the appointment of Luis Campos as director saw Paris Saint-Germain drop their pursuit, leaving Dembele with no choice but to re-negotiate with Barcelona.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup winner had always maintained that he wished to continue at Camp Nou. But he had shown no initiative to be willing to accept the terms that the club was offering.
However, Dembele eventually ended up reaching an agreement with Barça, after taking up a hefty 40% pay cut on his salary. However, the contract includes several performance-related bonuses which, if met, could help the attacker offset the salary cut, to an extent.
The official signing of the contract will be taking place later today, with Dembele set to become a Barcelona player again after close to two weeks of free agency.
That said, Dembele, who was thought to be Barcelona’s answer to the right-wing position heading into the new season, now faces a fresh challenge, as the Catalans have simultaneously roped in Raphinha from Leeds United.
It essentially means the Frenchman will have to compete with the Brazilian for a place on the right flank next season, thus adding to an incredible attacking depth Barcelona heading into the 2022/23 campaign.