MADRID (AP) - Ousmane Dembele is about to step into the spotlight.
The 20-year-old France striker signed by Barcelona to replace Neymar is expected to make his debut in the Catalan derby against Espanyol this weekend, getting the first chance to prove his worth after being involved in the second biggest transfer in soccer history behind the Brazilian’s move to Paris Saint-Germain.
“Will he be able to score on Saturday?” Barcelona posted on his website, noting that Dembele could join a list of players who debuted with goals in their Spanish league debut at the Camp Nou, including Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, Romario and Rivaldo.
Barcelona had already mentioned Dembele when listing details about the debut of its “greatest foreign signings,” including Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar.
The club brought in Dembele after losing Neymar in the world-record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in the offseason. It called the youngster as “one of the most promising young stars in European football,” a player with a “golden future.”
Dembele tried to avoid comparisons to Neymar the moment he arrived, saying that while the Brazilian was already “one of the best in the world,” he is only a “young player trying to learn every day.”
He didn’t hide he was anxious to be playing alongside Lionel Messi, whom he called “the best in history.”
More than 17,000 fans were at the Camp Nou when Dembele was officially introduced to fans on Aug. 28 after a transfer from Borussia Dortmund worth 105 million euros ($125 million) plus add-ons that could reach nearly 147 million euros ($175 million).
Barcelona initially wanted to replace Neymar with Philippe Coutinho, but Liverpool repeatedly rejected offers for the Brazil midfielder. The English club said it would only release Coutinho for 200 million euros ($238 million), an amount Barcelona said it was not willing to pay.
Barcelona will be under pressure for Dembele to succeed because it was not able to sign any other top player to help fill the hole left by Neymar. The team reportedly also went after PSG midfielder Angel Di Maria and Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, but could not reach any deals before the end of the transfer window.
The only other additions made by Barcelona in the offseason were forward Gerard Deulofeu, who re-signed from Everton, and Brazil midfielder Paulinho, who was playing in China.
“We expect a lot of Dembele,” Barcelona sports director Roberto Fernandez said. “We made a great effort to bring him and we have a lot of hope in him. He is a player for the future but he can also give us immediate results.”
The pressure will be on Dembele the minute he steps onto the field on Saturday, wearing the No. 11 that only a few months ago was on the back of Neymar’s shirt.
“What is important,” the talented forward said when he arrived, “is that I do my job on the field.”
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