Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele, not all that long ago, might have been considered one of the biggest transfer flops of all time because of how injuries had long limited him.
The Frenchman remains one of the most expensive players in history as a result of his €145m move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017.
Frustratingly for Barça fans, he was often very good when fit, scoring 14 times in 2018/19 and 11 times in 2020/21, yet hardly playing in 2017/18 or 2019/20.
Barcelona were determined to sell Dembele as recently as a year ago, keen to remove him from the wage bill but also recoup at least some money for him before his contract expired.
In the end, proposed moves to Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain fell through. But Dembele appeared to have a new lease of life at Camp Nou under Xavi, hired in November 2021, in the second half of last season and he signed a new two-year contract with Barça.
So far this season, Dembele has featured in all 16 of Barcelona’s La Liga games and has 14 direct goal involvements (seven scored, seven assists) in 23 appearances in all competitions.
Somewhat remarkably, aside from a brief bout of Covid-19 last January, the 25-year-old hasn’t missed any games through injury since recovering from a knee problem in November 2021 that had forced him to miss the opening three months of that season.
Mundo Deportivo writes that Barcelona physio Carlos Nogueira, who followed Xavi from his staff at Al Sadd in Qatar, is a significant reason why.
The player himself has also put more effort into his fitness and recovery now that he is more mature, having once earned a reputation for poor timekeeping. The strict discipline introduced by Xavi, which saw Dembele fined on an occasion last season for being just three minutes late for training, has probably also had an influence on his change in mindset.
As far as his fitness is concerned, Dembele is said to have learned from Nogueira that his longstanding muscle issues stem from his neck. it surprised him, but allowed things to be addressed in a way they never have done before. As a result, there have been no recurring flare-ups since.