Can Ousmane Dembele Recover In Time For UEFA Champions League?
Ousmane Dembélé has been an unfortunate player when it comes to suffering from injuries. Ever since his transfer from Borussia Dortmund to FC Barcelona in August of 2017, he has faced multiple injuries in his legs that have kept him away from the pitch for extended periods.
Out of the 11 injuries that he has faced during his time in the top flight of European football, nine have come after he arrived at the Catalan club.
And the latest on a long list of injuries is the hamstring injury that he contracted on the 28th of November 2019.
Dembélé’s Latest Injury
The Frenchman contracted this injury during a UCL group stage match between Barcelona and Dortmund. At first, it was estimated that he would miss about ten weeks of action return on the 28th of May 2020.
However, on the 4th of February 2020, he suffered a relapse while in training with the team. This incident only pushed his return date further and also added more damage to his already-weak hamstring muscle.
The relapse compelled Dembélé to go under the knife to repair the damage. Hence, he underwent successful surgery in Finland on the 11th of February 2020 to repair the complete tear of the tendon in his proximal hamstring in his right thigh.
Up until now, this latest injury has caused him to miss 40 games. And if he gets the medical green light on the 4th of August (which is his estimated return date), then he will have missed 182 days of regular football in Barcelona.
Ousmane Dembele Recovery And Expected Return Dates
As mentioned above, the estimated date for Dembélé’s full recovery, according to Transfermarkt, is the 4th of August. However, he was expected to be out for a full six months.
In the latter context, if we count precisely six months since his surgery took place on the 11th of February, his return date gets pushed back to the 11th of August.
If that happens, his initial recovery date will fall after Barcelona’s first UCL game against Napoli on the 8th of August after the restart of La Liga.
However, if we are to go by Transfermarkt’s estimation—which they created based on the date Dembélé first suffered a relapse (4th of February), then we can expect Dembélé to return during the match against Napoli.
Either way, the good news at this point is that he has not suffered another relapse.
The Finnish specialist that did his surgery back in February, Lasse Lempeinen, said right after the surgery that he would be keeping a close eye on his recovery and also expressed that Dembélé could recover fully and have a long and successful career.
Now almost six months after his surgery, Dembélé has recently been taking to the training pitch to continue his rehabilitation. He had been seen doing light training sessions, including accelerations, slaloms, and changes of direction at the Ciutat Esportiva, FC Barcelona’s training facility.
This development suggests that Dembélé has almost fully recovered from his injury, but “almost fully recovering” is different from “completely recovered.” And that has always been the case with Dembélé. He has suffered relapses after relapses—probably because he rushed his recovery.
However, this time, there seems to be no rush. He has taken almost all of his estimated recovery time and appears to be ready to start a new beginning.
Could Dembélé Recover In Time To Feature In The UCL?
Still, the question remains: can Dembélé recover just in time before Barcelona’s first match against Napoli?
There’s no definite answer to those questions, but his recovery progress seems to suggest that he could get the medical green light since he has already been doing on-field sessions.
However, getting medical clearance is just one part of his return back to normalcy. There are a few more things to consider before getting to a conclusion about whether he can feature in the UCL or not.
The first thing to keep in mind is to make sure Dembélé does not rush into full training. He cannot be allowed to indulge in extensive training, considering how many relapses he has faced in the past.
Dembélé also has to be in the perfect mental state to start playing regularly. After coming back from the harsh injury, he surely would have some concerns about relapses.
If he plays games with self-doubt clinging to the back of his mind, he cannot give his all on the pitch. That will increase his chances of suffering from another injury as well as put a cap on the team’s performance.
The third and probably the most important thing to consider when thinking about his UCL appearances is his integration back with the team. The first team—which is now in a short break—resumes training on the 28th of July.
One would assume that if Dembélé is to play in the UCL, he first has to train with the team and get integrated with the team, mainly because he has not played at all under Quique Setien.
That means that if he is to play, he has to start training with the team from the 28th of July. If he does not train with the team, then he won’t be able to understand how the team plays under Setien, and thus cannot play in a match situation properly.
And on the other side, if he does train with the team from the first day after the training resumes, he will not be completing his expected recovery time frame.
Therefore, Dembélé’s own recovery will determine whether he will feature in the UCL or not. The team needs him since Braithwaite cannot play in the UCL this time, and the team is struggling in the wider areas. But this does not mean that he should be rushed in or be asked to play a huge role in each match.
Could The Quick Succession Of Games In UCL Cause A Relapse?
As we know, the Champions League is going to be a one-leg affair this season after the RO-16 results are decided. And on top of that, the games are scheduled to come in quick succession to conclude this season as early as possible.
This means that the players have to be at their peak fitness, both mentally and physically, to handle each competitive passing game.
But Dembélé will neither be physically nor mentally at his peak if he returns.
Let’s assume that the winger gets the medical green light before the UEFA schedule, trains fully with the team, completes all sorts of drills, and integrates with the team as well as he has ever done in the past.
Despite all these favorable situations, there would still exist a few risks.
A competitive match, especially a UCL one-leg knock-out affair, is an entirely different ball game than regular training sessions.
The intensity between the training sessions and an actual match is very different. There have already been reports suggesting that Dembélé’s injuries are due to a lack of compatibility in intensity between Barcelona training sessions and actual professional matches.
However, Setien’s training sessions have been more intense than Valverde’s, but the point still stands. Training sessions are in no way the same as a competitive match.
Hence, any sudden change in physical demand can hamper Dembele’s recovery, If he is just thrown into a match and not slowly worked into them, the risk of injuring Dembélé yet again runs very high.
Another problem in playing him in the UCL is his rustiness. He has not kicked a ball since November of 2019. That’s approximately eight months without football. His confidence with the ball is sure to have dropped off quite a bit. And playing such a player in such quick succession of high-profile high-intensity matches can be a big ask, both for the player and the manager.
Risking Dembélé right now just to play him in the UCL might not be a rational thing to do. It needs to be made sure that he is in his peak condition before he is thrown into any games.
However, not everything is in the club’s hands, and Dembélé, too, will have a say in when he feels good enough to start playing matches.
After having missed so many matches in the last year or so, he must be itching to get back on the pitch. And if Dembélé feels ready to play, he has to be permitted to do so.
Either way, it will be interesting to see whether he will participate in the next training session with the team. That will dictate the path forward about his involvement in this season’s UCL.