Ousmane Dembélé has had one hell of a week.
Already the subject of immense scrutiny and controversy because he is, to say the least, unreliable and indisciplined, he turned in his absolute best performance for Barça in the Catalan derbi against Espanyol, capping it with an absolutely lovely goal plus an assist.
There was room to believe this was his breakthrough weekend. Not in football terms, his progression is slow but sure when it comes to pitch-intelligence.
But this is a guy who, despite having had something upwards of €150m spent on him in the last couple of years, can’t get himself to matches or training on time.
I know, I know. It’s happened before in the football world. I can’t actually say who, during my time as a fan, might have incurred Fergie’s fury because of sleeping in but I’d wager there were a few. However, times have changed.
Wages are stratospheric, Barcelona made him the second-most expensive player in history and there is microscopic attention on Dembélé not just from the media and fans but from the hawks in the Camp Nou dressing room.
Make no mistake about it, while this is neither the most talented nor most balanced Barça squad in recent memory, they are quite convinced that they can, and will, win a Champions League and La Liga double (on which subject we shall see – I think they’ll need a favourable wind).
But there are guys in there who’ve seen it all, done it all and who’d love to be able to judge when they can and can’t skip training on a rainy, cold morning or after a huge continental flight home in the very early hours.
What managers/coaches find most trying, the biggest burn-out factor for their energy and enthusiasm, is keeping young, cocky, brutally rich footballers both in line and engaged.
Put bluntly: if Dembélé, because he’s marvellously talented or because the club broke the bank to buy him, is showing weak standards concerning his professionalism then others will see the inch and take a mile. Every work environment is identical.
However, if Barcelona don’t “manage” the problem, they’ll lose a player who is, without question, a Ballon D’Or winner in the making. Dembélé’s just extraordinarily talented.
So, here’s the rub. Sunday morning’s training was at 11am – Dembélé, for the third time in very recent memory, didn’t make it on time.
In fact, he slept in and was two hours late. We’re told he was embarrassed, genuine in his apologies.
We’re also told he was fined €100,000, we know he was the butt of more media jokes… and that he let down loads of people who’ve backed him or tried to school him.
But, just for good measure, he then scored the most outrageous goal (against Spurs) – dazzling, it was.
As I say, one hell of a week. Now, can Santa just bring the kid a very, very loud alarm clock?