Leicester City Poised To Beat Arsenal And Chelsea To Signing Of Ligue 1 Teenage Sensation


The landscape in the Premier League has changed. With Leicester City top of the table, they are now being linked with players in the same breath as Arsenal and Chelsea. Especially when it comes to Stade Rennais’ teenage sensation, Ousmane Dembele.

Les Rouges et Noir have one of the most revered academies in France - from majestic midfielders like Yoann Gourcuff, to Porto's skilful Yacine Brahimi and Premier League veterans Mikael Silvestre and Sylvain Wiltord. Dembele is the latest in a long-line of promising youngsters to come through at Roazhon Park.

In a season that has offered little, the 18-year-old is giving the Rennes fans something to be excited about. Former Real Sociedad boss, Philippe Montanier, started the season in charge, but after Rolland Courbis was brought to the club in an advisory role, the knives were out and Montanier and the former Montpellier coach gave each other a brief smile as they passed through the revolving door in January.

Faith in Dembele was clear to see this weekend. Rennes 1-0 down away from Lille in Ligue 1 won a penalty with just minutes remaining at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

With the highly rated Paul-Georges Ntep still on the pitch, as well as the more experienced Giovani Sio and ex-Manchester City midfielder, Gelson Fernandes. It was Dembele that took charge of the situation, calmly levelling the game and earning Rennes an important point on their travels.

In 13 games this season, Dembele has scored five and contributed two assists, and according to Goal.com, in January, he was ahead of both Kingsley Coman and Alen Halilovic in terms of productivity among players his age - and only two points off the likes of Delle Ali at Spurs and Leroy Sané of Schalke.

It could have been so different though. As the top scorer in the reserve team last summer, the player and his people were unhappy that Montanier and his staff had failed to call him up to the professional squad late in the season - they looked for an escape route. The player travelled to Germany and enjoyed some trials, while also rejecting a new contract from the Breton club - citing Rennes lack of trust in youth as the prime reason.

Compromise was found, and in October the teenager signed a new deal until 2018 - with a reported release clause of just €5 million built in. This was nicely timed with a five-minute cameo off the bench against Angers at the start of November. The following weekend he was handed his first start and picked up his first goal. Getting on the end of Ntep's back post pass, the youngster had the simplest of tasks to add the finish.

He followed that up with his first assist in the next game. His blistering pace made short work of Stade de Reims veteran Franck Signorino and the young forward picked out Kamil Grosicki with the cut-back. The goal levelled the game at 2-2, another away point for Montanier's men.

If that was just the appetizer, against Guingamp he served up the main course. With the game goalless, Dembele showed his pace to burst away on the counter-attack twice in the last half an hour.

Firstly, he remained calm and composed to tuck away a first-time finish with his left foot after Sio had slipped him in - then he returned the favour, picking out the striker for the second, securing the 2-0 win.

With goals against Lorient and in the 4-2 comeback win over Troyes, Dembele showed composure, close control and the ability to score with both feet. Although fresh faced, he looks mature beyond his years - never so prevalent than with his stone-cold penalty against Lille on Saturday.

Paul-Georges Ntep, when signed from Auxerre, instantly became the new hope for Rennes fans. Pace, power and a wonderful right-foot, but now they have a new hero. An academy product making his way through the ranks. Dembele epitomises everything Rennes have strived for in the last 10 years.

Hints of an ego seem to have disappeared. He used to have his own website - before turning 18 or playing a single minute in the first-team. That has gone, and in its place lies a very talented teenager. His long legs give the impression he's taller than the 5 foot 8 he's listed as, but he is quick and has the ability to beat defenders on both sides.

Rennes have a star on their hands, but with such a low release clause and a season that has thrown him into the limelight, it is hard to see this star shining at Roazhon Park beyond the summer.

Due to his young age and slight frame, although the Premier League is in his future, it's hard to see where he would fit in right now. Leicester City, no matter where the rest of the season takes them, could be the perfect fit - especially with an experienced manager who is no stranger to developing talent.

However, there is no way Arsenal, Chelsea and the rest won't flutter their eyelashes if Dembele looks again for a move this summer.