Barcelona scouts are believed to have felt "very excited" after watching Ousmane Dembele, a rising star for French outfit Rennes, according to the Daily Mirror.
The 18-year-old has burst onto the scene this season, scoring nine goals in just 17 Ligue 1 appearances. A dynamic forward who can also play in a deeper No.10 role, it should come as no surprise that he has alerted the Catalan club.
Always on the lookout for the new Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez, Barcelona sent sporting director Robert Fernandez to Rennes to watch over the player. Dembele scored a hat-trick in that game – a dominant 4-1 derby win over Nantes – and Fernandez returned with a glowing review.
If he continues on the same trajectory, Barcelona would surely move to sign him in the summer transfer window, but they could face serious competition from a familiar foe.
Arsenal scouts have also been checking on Dembele and they too have told their chief, Steve Rowley, to get out to France to see him in action firsthand. If and when Rowley gives his approval, there would be little to stop Arsene Wenger returning to his homeland to pluck another gem.
Wenger has regularly found diamonds in the rough back in France, most recently signing Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Yassin Fortune from Lens last summer. Dembele would be in good company if he moved to north London.
Big problem for Barcelona
Indeed, Arsenal's interest could spell disaster for Barcelona, who, despite their dominant position in world football, cannot compete with the Premier League outfit on a financial level. Also, Wenger's policy of fast-tracking young players into the first team will surely work to his advantage.
Wenger has even managed to coax several Barcelona academy players to north London in the past, most famously swooping for Cesc Fabregas and more recently, Hector Bellerin. While playing for Barcelona is every child's dream, the reality is Dembele will have more chance of first-team football with the Gunners.
A historic showing
Dembele's hat-trick against Nantes cannot be understated. He became the first player in Rennes history to score three goals against their local rivals and the first Rennes player to score any kind of hat-trick since 2008.
With nine goals, no other player under the age of 20 across Europe's top five leagues has scored more goals than Dembele. Since making his debut in November – in which he scored against Bordeaux – he has become a key star for the team.
"I will take a chance and say that he can win Ballon d'Or. I saw Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age at Manchester United, and Ousmane has characteristics that remind me of the young Portuguese," club official Mikael Silvestre said in January.
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