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Ousmane Dembele: The Phenomenon

Cabral Opiyo writes about Ousmane Dembele, and his phenomenal talents.

In the internet age it does not take long for the new kid on the block to be labeled the next so and so and then dragged and spat upon within the space of a few months. The current internet darling is Kylian Mbappe- the Thierry Henry look alike who is just as brash and debonair on the field. A year ago all this adulation and hero worship adorned the shoulders of Anthony Martial who was relegated to the scrap heap in a few short months. Somehow Ousmane Dembele has been caught in between the tides of over appreciation and cautious interest that snowballs into full blown-racing out of the hair dresser’s hair half done scalp itching hype and that can only be a good thing.

To label Dembele precocious would be no injustice at all, to label him a phenomenon is still within the realms of due justice. It is telling that of all the flair players down the years only one has been named ‘The Phenomenon’ – the original Ronaldo. I am stepping into the murky abyss of comparison, I’m dirtying my hands in the pond of no return, at nineteen years old I’m comparing Ousmane Dembele to Ronaldo Nazario da Lima.

It is safe to say that the current crop of French youngsters is the best herd of colts of their age group, and unlike the previous talented lot that contained Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Ben Arfa this lot have the looks of coal miners intent on doing a job on the field with no frills off of it. Yet for all the hype that the rest have gathered it is Ousmanne Dembele who seems to have the most stable career path mapped out. Anthony Martial is kicking his heels on the plush-over cushioned-over advertised bench chairs in Manchester and Kylian Mbappe is due to brave the winds of speculation and money oriented calls that will come his way this summer. Kingsley Coman appears to have reached a crossroad in his career where both his parent club and adopted club have moved on from him, the unwanted child for no reason other than the passing of time.

When you watch Ousmane Dembele for the very first time you will be left mouth agape and nails in disarray from clenching the edge of your seat. It is like watching a Brazilian Futsal player hawk his wares on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, the sun setting behind the scene giving the performance an aura of romantic quality. That is to say that for the most part he plays like he belongs with the Harlem Globe Trotters or he’s having a kick about with his mates on the streets of Aulnay-Sous-Bois. He has the languid nature of a panther on a midday stroll around the Amazon jungle when he plays. There is a playfulness in his eyes that masks the steel in him that allows him to get up after being scythed down multiple times in a game; it’s that glint in his eyes that gives him the edge that has made the transition from French football to the Bundesliga and Champions League seamless.

I tried to pin point what his greatest strength was and at first I failed miserably. He has all the clichés; like a fully formed stallion out of the traps, silky skills on the ball and mesmerizing ball control, yet that is not what makes comparing him to O Fenomeno less than blasphemy. He swivels his hips and dips his shoulder and poof, now he is here, now he is gone, off to torment and snatch another defender’s poor soul. His close control really is a marvel because he is a lanky lad with huge feet, the very antithesis of the small wizards that so bewitch audiences world over. His dribbling even looks clumsy at times but he always pulls it off, the ball and his feet-bosom buddies.

What makes Ousmane Dembele so special is his deceiving body language, I watched numerous matches to stumble upon this little gem of information. He could be moving along at a sedate pace, trotting along with the ball at his feet; calm as a ship anchored at port then suddenly he bursts into a furious run and just hurtles out of the clutches of his opponent. What is more extraordinary than his sudden jerking take offs are his lurching stops, he goes from a state of bustling activity to a state of absolute stillness and back again to hyperactivity till the defender’s nerves are all tangled up and screaming bloody murder at all the activity and inactivity. He feints to go one way and his eyes go the other so the defender cannot trust either of his senses to try and counter the threat he knows is in the offing. This is what makes him fun to watch, the chaos he raises via his body movement alone without having to complete a dribble.

Maybe he will not score as many goals as Ronaldo Fenomeno did but his tactical tutoring under Pep acolyte Thomas Tuchel will do him a world of good in the future. Since he was given a sort of free role and not strictly confined to the chalk he has shown he has an eye for the needle pass, the pass that lesser players shun and shrink away from, the pass that splits bodies and leaves grown men tottering as if on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Dembele has an astute football mind that is always whirring as he calculates the possibilities of either laying waste to all the defenders in front of him like a hyper realistic Bruce Lee movie or threading a pass that sails just out of reach of defender’s cleats. His versatility will stand him in good stead as he has shown a willingness to use both feet and open up his body in both directions to receive the pass and shield the ball. With a better end product who is to say we won’t see him on the Balon d’or podium in a few years?

More than anything it’s that cold bloodedness to leave a trail of prone and twisted bodies in his wake with a nutmeg, a shimmy and turbo boost that sets him apart, he embraces the malicious challenges emanating from humiliated defenders, he thrives in it, he beats the water and churns the muddy pool of hard tackles, he does it all with a phenomenal grin. O Fenomeno the second coming?

Cabral Opiyo

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