Borussia Dortmund on Thursday said they had rejected an offer from Barcelona for Ousmane Dembele, as the wantaway forward was suspended for missing training.
Dortmund said a move by Dembele to the Camp Nou, where he is being lined up as a replacement for Neymar, was unlikely, after they turned down an offer that did not reflect the young winger’s “extraordinary” value or the current state of the transfer market.
“As there is no other offer on the table, a transfer by the player to FC Barcelona is not at this time expected, nor currently very likely,” said a club statement.
Dembele, who at the age of just 20 is considered one of the top talents in Europe, has been hotly pursued to fill the void left by Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record 222 million euros ($260 million) last week.
German tabloid Bild reported that Dortmund want an eye-watering 150 million euros ($175 million) for their rising star, a price Barca appear unwilling to pay.
Dembele, who has made no secret of his desire to play for Barcelona, failed to show up for practice on Thursday.
“We don’t know why. We tried to reach him but we were unable to,” Dortmund coach Peter Bosz told reporters.
Unimpressed, Dortmund promptly suspended the Frenchman for his unexplained absence.
“We will of course sanction this misconduct,” Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc said in a statement, adding that Dembele was suspended until after this weekend’s Cup match.
Bild suggested that Dembele may have been trying to break the deadlock in the negotiations with his no-show.
“Dembele really wants to go to Barcelona but yesterday he had to swallow the fact that the two clubs could not agree on a transfer fee,” it wrote.
Speculation about Dembele’s possible move to the Camp Nou reached fever-pitch in recent days after the French international deleted the words “Borussia Dortmund” and the team’s slogan “true love” from his Twitter and Instagram profiles.
Dembele himself told Gol TV last week that it was “a pleasure” to see his name on Barca’s wish list.
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Neymar’s stunning departure to PSG has sent Barca scrambling for replacements before the transfer window closes.
They are looking for someone to slot into the famed attacking line-up alongside the world-class talents of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
The Catalan giants have also approached Liverpool about signing Philippe Coutinho — though here too there has been no sign of a deal.
The Spanish club were reported to have increased their bid for Coutinho to £90 million (100 million euros, $115 million) on Wednesday after two previous offers were rejected by the Premier League side.
But Liverpool manager Klopp remains adamant the 25-year-old will stay at Anfield no matter what Barca are prepared to pay.
“We want to have the best possible team. This means keeping the guys we have,” Klopp told Sky in Germany on Thursday.
“Liverpool is not a club that needs to sell. That is set in stone. So what they pay in the end doesn’t matter.”
Precocious forward Dembele joined Dortmund last summer from French side Rennes for just 15 million euros.
He went on to enjoy a promising first season in the Bundesliga, scoring six goals in 32 appearances.
Dembele’s skills on the pitch, including a series of dazzling assists, quickly impressed and earned him ‘wunderkind’ headlines in the German press, though he has been criticised at times for lacking discipline.
“I’m not a phenomenon, I’m just trying to be decisive for my team-mates, there are a lot of talented young people in football,” a modest Dembele said last March.
Dembele was already courted by Barcelona last year, but opted for a five-year deal with Dortmund to improve his game and gain more first-team experience.
According to Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo at the time, the youngster however left Barca sporting director Robert Fernandez in no doubt about his true ambitions.
“One day I will play for Barca,” he said.