Barcelona supporters called for Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign as they waited for the presentation of the new €145m signing Ousmane Dembélé at the Camp Nou, increasing the pressure on the president with the transfer market heading into its final three days and the Catalan club refusing to give up on Philippe Coutinho.
“We are negotiating with a player, with the possibility that he can come,” the Barcelona sporting director, Robert Fernández, said. “We hope it ends well, we can reach an agreement and present another new player.”
Liverpool have insisted repeatedly that they will not sell and Fernández did not name Coutinho, but his words came in response to a question about the Brazilian.
In the past couple of days sources in Barcelona have expressed their hope that they will be able to convince Liverpool to sell once the Anfield club have signed an alternative, but they believe that will take a huge fee to do so. Coutinho has told Liverpool that he wants to leave.
“My intention is for one more player to arrive – two, if possible,” Fernández said. “We’re negotiating [for them].”
Dembélé is the fourth player to arrive at Barcelona so far this summer, following Nélson Semedo, Paulinho and Gerard Deulofeu. He joined for €105m plus a further 40% to be paid according to a series of targets – half of them collective, the other half individual – taking the total transfer fee to a potential €145m. He has signed until 2022, with a €400m buyout clause.
Bartomeu had hoped that Dembele’s arrival would reduce the pressure as he faces a vote of no confidence brought by the former presidential candidate Agustí Benedito. That comes amid fierce criticism of his management of the club and in the wake of Neymar leaving for Paris Saint-Germain, who triggered his €222m buyout clause. Instead, the presentation was held up by more than an hour because of delays in Dembélé’s departure from Dortmund being formally signed off. The delay frustrated fans while even the commentator on Barcelona’s international English-language TV channel admitted that he, like the fans, was becoming impatient and, given a lot of space to fill, started talking about everything from French O Levels to the Game of Thrones. As they waited, a significant proportion of the 17,814 supporters at the Camp Nou chanted for Bartomeu’s resignation.
When Dembélé finally arrived almost an hour late, he signed the contract, changed by his new locker – previously occupied by Jérémy Mathieu and Marc Muniesa – and ran out on to the pitch where he posed by a club car, as if he had just won Family Fortunes, and performed a few kick‑ups, trying a flick that did not come off. If that was mostly funny, the chants were troubling for the president, another demonstration that this signing alone might not be enough. There is a footballing need for signings and a political one too.
The signing of Dembélé was widely welcomed, but few believe it is enough. While Neymar played on the left of a front three, that is not the Frenchman’s typical role. “I’m not here to substitute Neymar,” he said. “Barcelona needed a player in my position and I’m here to help. I’m two footed. I prefer to dribble with the left and shoot with the right. Neymar is one of the best players in the world and I’m still young. It’s only my second season as a professional.”
There are also doubts over the price. Fernández said that Barcelona had tried to sign him last summer, when he cost €15m, but had been unable to do so because he wanted to be guaranteed playing time. Now with Neymar’s departure, he has arrived – for 10 times as much. “I’m only 20. I don’t pay any attention to the price; the market has gone mad,” Dembélé said.
He is the most-costly player Barcelona have signed and the third most expensive in history, but they aspire to break that figure still.