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Why Barcelona Just Made a 20-Year-Old the Second-Most-Expensive Player Ever

Ousmane Dembélé joins the Spanish club from Borussia Dortmund for €105 million

Ousmane Dembélé Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images

Well, Barcelona finally did something right.

After a summer of mishaps, missteps, and misinformation that came close to ending with Messi still yet to sign a new contract, Neymar in Paris, and a midfielder from the Chinese Super League as the only reinforcement, the Catalan club announced on Friday the signing of 20-year-old star Ousmane Dembélé from Borussia Dortmund for a fee worth up to €150 million—the highest sum paid by a club that’s not funded by the nation of Qatar.

We’ve been waiting to see what the first post-Neymar domino would be, and it’s triple digits for a Frenchman who made his professional debut only two years ago and who cost just €15 million last summer when Dortmund bought him from Stade Rennais.

So, is he worth it?

There’s no answer for that: Barcelona came on to €200-plus million they never thought they would have, and they needed to replace their best young player, who just so happens to also be one of the five best players in the world. There’s no WAR to tell us how much a given player is worth, and even if there were, it wouldn’t apply here. Barça had extra cash and they were desperate to spend it, so anyone willing to sell them a star was going to turn the club upside down until almost all the change fell out of their pockets. The fee is a ton of money, but they had to spend in order to get a player who could contribute to the team both right now and for the foreseeable future.

And that’s Dembélé—more than any player in the world, he threads the specific Barcelona needle. He’s good enough already that he can start for Barça from day one and provide the necessary support to a 30-year-old Messi, but he’s young enough that he could also one day become the club’s next superstar and eventual centerpiece.

Last season in the Bundesliga, Dembélé scored six goals, added 12 assists, and completed 20 more dribbles than any other player. Considering the quality of chances he created for himself and his teammates, he was arguably the best attacking midfielder in the Bundesliga in 2016-17—and that was as a 19-year-old. Now he’s 20 and exhilarating to watch. Dembélé plays with a unique and urgent uncertainty: It looks like he’s walking on ice—and then he somehow slips through a crowd of defenders and chips the ball to a wide open teammate on the back post.

For Dortmund, they lose one of their best players before he comes close to hitting his prime. However, they don’t have as much money as a club like Liverpool, who were able to rebuff similar offers from Barcelona for their star attacker, Philippe Coutinho. With the sale, Dortmund made the biggest one-season profit on a player in the history of the sport.

Without Dembélé, they’re still probably favorites to finish second behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga—thanks in no small part to Christian Pulisic’s transformation into an American god. And now, one of the smartest clubs in the world has an extra €100-plus million. The transfer window closes next week, but that’s not the hardest part. Dortmund are about to learn the same lesson they taught Barcelona: When everyone knows you have money to spend, they’re gonna make you spend it.