Dortmund (Germany) (AFP) – Everything has happened very fast for Ousmane Dembele, still just 19 but starring for Borussia Dortmund and dreaming of making the France squad for the next World Cup.
“I’m loving it, but I can do better,” Dembele admitted to AFP of his first season in the German Bundesliga following a move from Rennes last year.
He was a sensation in his homeland after breaking into the Rennes first team, and 12 goals in 26 games later he had chosen to join Dortmund where he has quickly become indispensable.
Four goals and eight assists from 19 Bundesliga games make him the perfect support act for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front for Dortmund, who play in front of 80,000 crowds at their spectacular Signal-Iduna Park.
“I am not some phenomenon. I just try to be decisive for my teammates. Young kids with talent, there are loads of them in football,” says a modest Dembele, who moved to Germany for 15 million euros ($15.9m, £12.8m).
Dembele talks about the intensity demanded even in training sessions by Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, about the tactical demands placed on him.
Tuchel “asks us to constantly press the opposition as soon as we lose the ball. He is very close to the players, laughs a lot with us. But when things are not going well, he can get angry.”
And things have not always gone swimmingly this season — Dortmund’s hoped-for title push has not materialised and they began the weekend in fourth place, 15 points behind leaders Bayern Munich.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, Dembele played as Dortmund lost 1-0 to Benfica in Portugal in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Far from his mother, brothers and sisters, who had followed him from Normandy to Rennes, Dembele does have his uncle and “best friend” Moustapha Diatta for support in Germany.
Diatta was his neighbour growing up in Evreux and now plays for Dortmund’s reserve team.
But Dembele’s success in settling in Germany also owes much to the advice he says he gets from his attacking mentors, Marco Reus and Aubameyang, who he calls “a brother”.
He admits to relishing playing in Tuchel’s Dortmund side but adds: “I can do better. I need to keep working hard.”
Dembele, who does not turn 20 until May, says he must improve his finishing and “stop stupidly losing the ball.”
But German football magazine Kicker stuck up for the youngster last week, saying: “One can be excused for losing the ball from time to time when one is so often capable of getting fans out of their seats.”
Dembele has complained of the often bruising treatment reserved for him from defenders but the experience he has gained this year has forced him to grow up quickly.
Already capped three times by France, Dembele has his sights set on a place in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“If we qualify, I will do everything to be there,” he said.