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Barcelona have identified Rennes starlet Ousmane Dembele as their number one target for the summer transfer window, according to Sport. The Spanish publication claims Barca officials have accelerated negotiations with the Ligue 1 side to secure the services of the 18-year-old winger ahead of next season, with Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid also monitoring the situation.
Both Sport and Mundo Deportivo reported on 7 March that Barcelona technical director Robert Fernandez and his right-hand man Urbano Ortega travelled to France over the weekend to watch the player in the clash between Stade Rennais FC and Nantes. Dembele did not miss a chance to shine, bagging a first-half hat-trick to lead his side to a 4-1 victory.
The teenager has caught the eye of a number of European clubs after proving to be a major asset in his debut top-flight campaign. He has netted nine goals and provided three assists in just 17 Ligue 1 appearances, including one in his full debut for the first-team in a 2-2 draw against Bourdeaux earlier in November.
Sport claims that Barcelona have been so impressed with his development they have earmarked him as a "top priority" for the summer transfer window. The two club chiefs took advantage of their weekend trip to France to start the negotiations with Stade Rennais as the Catalans wants to "bring him as soon as possible" to ward off the interests of Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in battling for his services. The deal, according to the reports, could be for around €10m (£7.7m, $11m).
The original plan was to sign him now and loan the player out elsewhere next season to continue his progress. Yet, following his impressive breakthrough, Barcelona plan to hand him an immediate role in the first team as Luis Enrique needs a versatile forward to back up the MSN trio after failing to sign Nolito in January.
Sport points out that Barcelona have an advantage over other suitors to secure his services after Dembele himself revealed in an interview that his "dream" was to play at the Nou Camp.