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Dembele talks injuries, Xavi, Barcelona, Mbappe, Champions League, World Cup ambitions

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Ousmane Dembele is finally coming into his own after a terrible time at Barcelona over the past five years. Signed from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017 as a replacement for Neymar, the 25-year-old struggled with relentless injury problems in the early parts of his career.

But following the arrival of Xavi Hernandez as manager last year, things have started to click for the Frenchman. And even though his contract expired this past summer, the winger signed a new deal, extending his stay at Spotify Camp Nou until 2025.

During an interview with RMC, Dembele opened up on what sparked the turnaround in his career, saying: “When I had my last major injury, I knew that I had to work to be able to play, to be able to perform, to be healthy. Above all, to be healthy enough to be able to play and then to be able to perform little by little.”

On his lifestyle in the early phase of his stint at Barça, he said: “I was young like everyone else. But I was able to get out of that situation. However, not everything is the way people imagined it.”

Talking about his injuries, the French winger added: “I had a lot of injuries… People told me ‘If you don’t work, you will stagnate. You will get hurt if you don’t work’.”

“I have lost a lot of time in my life. From 2017 to 2021… I lost five years of my life,” he added.

Speaking about the moment when he felt things click at Camp Nou, Dembele said: “When I knew I had ‘the click’ it was under Koeman. Now under Xavi it’s going even better. Since that ‘click’ I haven’t had any injuries. I’m very happy, but I’m still working.”

On his current situation at the club, he added: “I feel very good at Barcelona. The squad believes in me, the club believes in me. I’m very happy.”

The past weekend was a memorable occasion for Dembele as he welcomed his first child into the world. Talking about becoming a father, the forward said: “It just happened, I’m getting used to it. It’s good, I’m growing up and it’s very good. I have more responsibilities, it’s the life of a dad.”

Having been called up to the French national team after a year, Dembele expressed his pleasure about the return, saying: “It’s a pleasure to work again with the French NT, I worked hard for this since last year.”

He has linked up with PSG superstar Kylian Mbappe in the national team camp. Speaking about his partnership with the 23-year-old, the Barcelona added:

“I’d like to play more games with Mbappé. He knows me very well, I know him very well. We’ve only played four or five games together and it went very well.”

Explaining his decision to sign a new contract with the Blaugrana, Dembele said: “With the confidence Xavi had in me, I decided to stay at Barcelona.”

Xavi has been key to Dembele’s resurgence (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

“I always told Xavi that I wanted to stay at the club. Afterwards, it’s negotiations, it’s contractual, I didn’t fix myself. I didn’t think I was going to leave the club.”

Talking about his ambitions with the club, he added: “I’m really looking forward to Barça winning the Champions League again.”

On his favoured position on the pitch, Dembele stated: “I feel better on the right wing. Now, with Barça, I play on the right wing, but I was a number 10 before.”

Talking about the coaches who have had an impact on his career, the 25-year-old said: “To have a coach that believes in me is really important. With Roland Courbis, Thomas Tuchel and Xavi… It has always been so important to have this confidence in me.”

On the changes he made to improve his fitness, Dembele said: “The way I was working before was not good enough. If you don’t do work, you will get injured. Koeman changed everything, he gave me health, that’s the least of things.”

“When I arrived at Barça I was young, but now, with experience, I’m above everything.”

There had been a lot of speculations over his future, with outlets claiming that he was prioritising money over sporting objectives. Responding to those, he said:

“Nowadays, everyone talks about my football, rather than me playing for money. I’ve always dreamed of playing for Barça and I’m very happy to be fulfilling my dream every day.”

Talking about the good mood in the French camp and their chances of building another top team, he said: “Yes of course. Afterwards, group life is very important to perform. We saw it at the World Cup in 2018.

“There was the quality of the team etc… but that’s not what wins a World Cup. There is a whole workforce, a whole staff and if there is a good mood in all this workforce, there you will perform.”

On the team’s chances at the World Cup, he added: “The objective is to keep the title but with caution all the same. There are some nations that are strong too. 

“For me, now there are no more small nations, you can win or lose against everyone. It’s even more difficult and I think France will fight in Qatar to keep the title.”

When quizzed if he would prefer to win the Ballon d’Or, the World Cup or the Champions League with Barcelona, he said:

“Personally, for me it is to win the Champions League with Barcelona. That Barcelona regains the Champions League, it’s now been seven years since they won. That they win titles, La Liga, the Champions League, that’s the most important thing.”

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