PROSPECT | Ousmane Dembélé

Sometimes you might have heard of a young player for a long time before they hit the finally hit the professional scene and other times, they seem to have spring totally out of nowhere. For new Rennes starlet Ousmane Dembélé, it has been as if someone has shot him out of a rocket and propelled him onto the Ligue 1 stage for all to see.

The 18-year-old joined the Brittany club back in 2010 but only signed his first professional contract in October 2015. A month later, the youngster made his debut for Rennes, coming on as a substitute for the final five minutes in the 2-0 win.

When they returned to the Roazhon Park to take on Bordeaux, Dembélé was thrust into the starting line-up and made a real impact. He started confidently and then was in the right place at the right time as he tapped home a cross for the opener in a 2-2 draw.

The Frenchman returned to the bench for the next game against Reims but again, he would make a difference as it was his cutback after a darting run down the right that set up the equaliser for Kamil Grosicki.

He continued to be used in a sporadic fashion, playing the entire 90 minutes against Marseille but only coming on for the final 20 against St Étienne before exploding just before the winter break.

The winger was outstanding against Guingamp, sprinting from the halfway line to give Giovanni Sio an option for the opener, which he tucked away wonderfully with his left foot, before returning the favour to the striker in the final moments in a quick counter as he put Sio through with his right foot.

At the time of writing, Dembélé has played just 10 Ligue 1 games, starting on seven occasions, but has scored four goals, created two assists and has been a real breath of fresh air.

Former manager Philippe Montanier was struggling with which combination of wingers he should deploy but the youngster quickly made himself irreplaceable with his consistently high level of performances.

A few weeks ago, Dembélé told beIN Sports’ The Ligue 1 Show: I always play to try to please the crowd, but now I need to focus on hard work. What I’m doing is good but if I want to keep it up, I can’t afford to let my efforts drop.”

In the first part of that quote, it is clear from the way he plays the game that he wants to be the entertainer. He is always looking at ways to go past his man, whether it be with his lightning quickness, his close-ball control or his ability to switch feet at a whim without weakness, the kind of things that always get fans on their feet.

That is shown in the amount of dribbles he makes, which stands at 3.8 per game, and that is also a testament to his skills as a winger. He wants to get in behind, which frightens defenders in any league, and the fact that he can do it on either side and in a number of ways at his age is frightening.

Dembélé is also not afraid to have a go at goal. Averaging just over two shots per game, much like fellow winger Paul-Georges Ntep, he is not afraid to cut inside or take a strike on goal when the opportunity arises.

However, in another extract in his interview with beIN Sports, he admits that his team play can improve.

He said: “I need to be more efficient because sometimes in situations I try to dribble when I should be passing. I lose the ball and get an earful from the others! But I’m working on that; my team play needs improving.”

It is a good thing to admit and sometimes in games and naturally for such a relatively immature individual he does make the wrong choices. He has got such ability to beat players, but sometimes he tries to do a little too much on his own and therefore he can get a little selfish, sometimes going for goal when passing would be a better option.

The real positive from this situation is that he has identified those weaknesses and these can be and surely will be rectified with increased playing time and experience.

He could do with improving his aerial ability too, if he wants to add another weapon to his artillery and fulfil Mikaël Silvestre’s prediction that he could become the next Cristiano Ronaldo. Especially as he has the right instincts to come inside the box when the ball is down the other wing.

His passing accuracy, 69.1%, is also something he needs to improve but with being a winger, this can be a little of a misnomer as they tend to be the players that take the most risks as they operate in the final third.

In the first game under new manager Rolland Courbis against Gazelec Ajaccio, he saw out the 90 minutes and was rotated to both wings and even had a few minutes up top on his own. It shows his and his fellow teammates’s versatility and he looked the most likely to create something before the late substitutions, even with higher profile players like Ntep and Juan Fernando Quintero on the pitch.

It has been a whirlwind few months for the youngster and while his play has been incredibly promising, time will be the ultimate judge. It would be fantastic for him to carry on in this vein of form for the rest of the season and then stay at least another year at Rennes, especially as it seems likely someone in Europe will poach Ntep.

When he is then handed the mantle of being their great hope, even at his age, if that does not weigh him down then Dembélé has a very bright future. Keep his feet on the ground, allow him to continue to grow as a footballer and as a man and he could be something a little special.

Nathan Staples

More European Football News