MADRID (AP) — Barcelona came agonizingly close to losing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It never really had a chance of getting rid of Ousmane Dembélé.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Tuesday the deal to sign Aubameyang was sealed a minute before the transfer window deadline ended on Monday night, and that Dembélé inexplicably rejected two good offers to leave the club.
The club did not want Dembélé to stay after the French player’s agents turned down several offers to extend his contract in negotiations that lasted nearly six months.
“We had made a good offer for him to renew his contract and stay, but it became a financial issue and he wanted more,” Laporta said. “We showed him two good offers (at the transfer deadline) for him to play with another club during these last six months, the last one from an English club, and he didn’t accept them and preferred to stay here. We were surprised.”
Dembélé’s contract ends in June and he will be able to leave for free. Barcelona broke its own record to sign the young forward from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 in a deal worth up to 147 million euros (then $175 million), including add-ons.
“It’s hard to understand,” said Laporta, who last year called Dembélé better than Kylian Mbappé. “We think he may already have a deal with another club. That’s what his agent hinted.”
Laporta said Dembélé’s permanence was “not good for him or the club.” He didn’t say if the player would be reinstated to the squad of coach Xavi Hernández, saying the decision would be made taking the club’s best interest into account. Dembélé was marred by health problems this season and throughout his first years with the Catalan club.
Dembélé’s departure would have cleared more salary cap space and made the addition of Aubameyang much easier, Laporta said.
He said the documents needed to seal the deal with the Gabon striker arrived one minute before Monday’s midnight deadline. The president raised his fist in celebration as he left the club’s headquarters after closing the deal, and he was followed by Aubameyang and his representatives a few moments later.
The documents from Arsenal allowed the player to become a free agent, and gave Barcelona extra time to make the deal official, which should happen in the coming days, Laporta said.
Aubameyang arrived in the city on Monday to finalize negotiations after being stripped of the captaincy at Arsenal for disciplinary reasons. He went to the African Cup of Nations but didn’t play after being diagnosed with heart lesions during his recovery from the coronavirus.
Arsenal released a statement Tuesday saying Aubameyang left the club by mutual agreement. It wished him luck and thanked him for his contribution to the club, where he scored 92 goals in 162 appearances in all competitions.
Barcelona’s other signings in the winter window were veteran Brazil defender Dani Alves and forwards Ferran Torres and Adama Traoré.
The club has been slowly restructuring its finances after it couldn’t keep Lionel Messi at the end of last season. It has already been eliminated in the Champions League, the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. It sits fifth in the Spanish league, 15 points behind leader Real Madrid with a game in hand.