Three years ago, Bayern Munich were linked with the signing of Ousmane Dembele from Barcelona, a transfer which never ended up materializing. However, the links were strong enough to justify a deep dive into the viability of signing Dembele. Our conclusion back then? Serge Gnabry was the better player.
Now in 2022, we find ourselves back in the same spot. The Frenchman has once again been linked with a move to Munich, this time as a free agent. Does the signing make more sense now? Or should Bayern steer clear and focus on other targets? Let’s examine the 2019 arguments and see if they hold up.
Argument # 1: Injuries
Back in 2019, we had this to say about Ousmane Dembele’s injury record:
Season 17/18: Hamstring injury. 106 days (20 games) missed, from September 2017 to January 2018.
Season 17/18: Torn muscle bundle. 26 days (7 games) missed, from January 2018 to February 2018.
Season 18/19: Ankle injury. 18 days (5 games) missed from January 2019 to February 2019.
Season 18/19: Torn muscle bundle. 26 days (4 games) missed from March 2019 to April 2019.
Season 18/19: Hamstring injury. 42 days (4 games) missed from May 2019 to June 2019.
Despite Barcelona’s medical wizardry, Dembélé has really struggled with injuries at the Camp Nou, muscular injuries being the most prevalent. This is very serious, as these sorts of injuries can dog a player throughout his career, sidelining him over and over.
Since then, his injury problems have not improved. Here are his absences from 19/20 onward:
- 19/20: Hamstring injury. 34 days (5 games) missed from August 19 to September 22, 2019.
- 19/20: Muscular problems. 3 days (1 game) missed from September 27 to September 30, 2019.
- 19/20: Torn muscle bundle. 66 days (13 games) missed from November 28, 2019. to February 2, 2020.
- 19/20: Hamstring injury. 191 days (19 games) missed from February 4 to August 13, 2020.
- 20/21: Hamstring injury. 22 days (5 games) missed from December 6 to December 28, 2020.
- 20/21: Unknown injury. 2 days (1 game) missed from April 21 to April 23, 2021.
- 21/22: Knee injury. 134 days (14 games) missed form June 20 to November 1, 2021.
- 21/22: Hamstring injury. 18 days (2 games) missed from November 4 to November 22, 2021.
- 21/22: Coronavirus. 7 days (2 games) missed from December 29, 2021 to January 5, 2022.
Clearly our original assessment from 2019 was spot on. Since that article was written, Dembele has missed 477 days and 62 games due to injury or illness. Frankly, that’s an absurd number and should give Bayern Munich some pause. Only the 2021/22 season saw him remain relatively healthy throughout an entire campaign, but it is clear that his hamstring issues are not completely a thing of the past.
Dembele has youth on his side, and there are reasons to believe that FC Barcelona mishandled his injury issues in the past. He’s not the only Barca youngster to have had recurring injury issues, and the Frenchman’s problems mostly cleared up after Xavi Hernandez entered the picture and completely revamped the Catalans’ medical team.
Dembele’s injury record might not be the red flag it once was, but it’s still huge risk to take. If the rumored € 18m / year salary offer is true, then Bayern Munich should offer that money to a player who can actually stay fit.
Argument # 2: The Serge Gnabry factor
Back in 2019, we made the argument that Bayern did not need Dembele because Serge Gnabry was clearly the better player, and the stats seemed to back it up. The argument proved prescient, as Gnabry had one of his best-ever seasons in the following campaign, becoming Bayern’s second-top scorer in a treble-winning season.
Of course, we’re in 2022 now, and the situation is not quite as clear. Though he finished it strong, Serge Gnabry had a disappointing year by his standards, and it caused Bayern to hesitate from offering him a new contract.
Here’s a statistical comparison between Serge Gnabry and Ousmane Dembele, kindly provided by the folks over at FC Discordelona:
In case numbers bore you or the radar looks scary, here’s the gist of it:
- Gnabry beats Dembele in goalscoring metrics like non-penalty goals and non-penalty xG. Given that their shot numbers are similar, it’s obvious that Gnabs is the better finisher (by some margin).
- Dembele just edges out Gnabry in the creativity department. Their passes into the box are identical, but the Frenchman has higher xA, more shot creating actions, more successful dribbles, more progressions, more carries into the final third, and more carries into the box.
Honestly, based on these numbers, it’s hard to make a case for one player over the other. Circumstances can play into it – Barcelona spent a chunk of the season coached by Ronald Koeman, whose tactics were sub-par at best, and Dembele saw a resurgence under Xavi. Gnabry did not have to deal with that baggage, though this season was not his best.
So, IF Gnabry decides not to renew, Dembele seems like a decent option. But is he the only option on the market? And is he worth 18m euros a year? Tough questions to answer, but I’m leaning towards “no”.
Argument # 3: Barca’s asking price
This has become a non-factor since Dembele is now a free agent. Let’s move on.
Argument # 4: Dembele’s attitude problems
Back in 2019, Ousmane Dembele was infamous for his poor work ethic. Since then, the Frenchman has mostly cleaned up his act. Per reports, he’s no longer late to trainings and Xavi seems to like him as a player. Of course, anyone can pretend to be professional and put in the work during a contract year, and Dembele knew he was on the shop window this season. Will he go back to his old ways after coming to Bayern? Who can say?
In addition, one thing that cannot be ignored is the racism controversy. The incident took place during the summer of 2019, but only gained traction in 2021 after a video emerged of Dembele and Griezmann mocking Asian hotel staff during their tour of Japan (via ESPN). Both players apologized for the incident, but it’s not something that can just be forgotten.
Is this the kind of player Bayern Munich should sign? On the one hand, his actions fly in the face of the club’s values. On the other, he was 22-years-old at the time and could’ve cleaned up his act. It’s hard to say. But what if other similar videos exist, just waiting to come to light? That’s controversy that Bayern Munich does not need to deal with.
Argument # 5: Better options?
In 2019, compared to Ousmane Dembele, Bayern Munich had many more options on the market to pursue. Chief among them was Leroy Sane, whom the Bavarians eventually landed – though a year later and at a heavy discount.
This season, Bayern have been linked to the likes of Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and RB Leipzig’s Christopher Nkunku. However, both players seem unrealistic in the current scenario. Given the club’s financial situation and Dembele’s expiring contract, the Frenchman might actually be an enticing option this summer. However, considering all the issues listed above – injury problems, a question of quality, and controversy – it’s hard to say that anything has changed in the last three years.
For now, Ousmane Dembele remains a risky option for Bayern Munich. He has a lot of upsides – as a quality dribbler with pace, he’s suited to the Bundesliga and Bayern’s style of play. However, it seems that the negatives still make this transfer a hard pill to swallow. Maybe if that salary number was 20-30% lower, this move would make sense.