Madrid (AP) — Newly signed Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele said there is a long way to go before he can be compared to Neymar, the Brazilian star he is replacing at the Catalan club.
As he was officially introduced to fans on Monday, the 20-year-old Dembele tried to avoid any parallels with Neymar, who left in a world-record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in the offseason.
“There is a difference between me and Neymar,” Dembele said through a translator. “He is one of the best players in the world, he is excellent. I’m young, I’ve only played two seasons as a professional. I’m trying to learn every day, I’m trying to improve.”
Dembele said he was fulfilling a dream by joining the club he cheered for since he was a child, and that he was looking forward to playing alongside Lionel Messi.
“I want to learn from him,” he said. “He is a fantastic player, the best in history. It will be an honor to play in his team. I want to see how he plays, I want to see what he does on the field and off the field. I’m here to learn.”
Barcelona paid 105 million euros ($125 million) to sign Dembele from Borussia Dortmund, plus possible add-ons that could reach 147 million euros ($175 million) and would make the Frenchman the second-highest transfer in soccer history.
“It’s not a pressure,” he said. “The market has changed. What is important is that I do my job on the field. I’m not going to be affected by the amount of the transfer.”
Barcelona said more than 17,000 fans were at the Camp Nou Stadium to get their first look at Dembele in a presentation that was delayed by approximately two hours because of a bureaucratic issue that was keeping the youngster from signing the new contract.
Dembele underwent a medical before finally signing the contract alongside Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu.
He changed from his suit into the team’s No. 11 shirt that Neymar used to wear, then greeted the crowd before doing a few tricks with the ball and exchanging passes with members of the club’s youth squads.
He also received the keys to the car he was awarded from one of the team’s sponsors.
Before his first press conference as a Barcelona player, Dembele posed with the team’s shirt along with his family.
Dembele’s five-year contract has a buyout clause of 400 million euros ($478 million).
He was signed after Neymar left for PSG in a deal worth more than 220 million euros ($262 million) just before the start of the season.
Barcelona initially tried to sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool but negotiations did not develop.
Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernandez did not dismiss the possibility that Coutinho may still arrive, saying that the club was still negotiating to bring one or two players before the end of the transfer window on Friday.
Barcelona have already added forward Gerard Deulofeu, who was with Everton but used to play for the team’s youth squads, and Brazil midfielder Paulinho, who was playing in China.
Barcelona won their first two games in the Spanish league.