Ousmane Dembele can follow in the footsteps of Messi and Ronaldo and claim the Ballon D'or

It’s been a peculiar season so far for Borussia Dortmund. Despite losing Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan over the summer, they were expected to once again be the closest challengers to Bayern Munich’s crown after investing well to replace the outgoing stars.

Yet, after 15 games, BVB lie fifth in the table, trailing Bayern and surprise package RB Leipzig by 10 points. The Champions League, however, has thus far seen the best of the 2013 finalists, with Thomas Tuchel’s men topping their group ahead of Real Madrid, Sporting Clube de Portugal and Legia Warsaw.

But while Dortmund continue to search for consistency – understandably encumbered by injuries to key players – 19-year-old summer signing Ousmane Dembele is showing signs of developing into a genuine world-class star.

Last week, the Black and Yellows travelled to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena to take on unbeaten Hoffenheim. When the hosts took a third-minute lead through Mark Uth, it was the teenager who carried the fight to Julian Nagelsmann’s side and created an equaliser in magnificent fashion, dribbling past multiple opponents before squaring the ball for Mario Gotze to tuck into the corner of Oliver Baumann’s goal.

Questionable defending soon saw Dortmund trailing once more, as towering forward Sandro Wagner restored Hoffenheim’s lead after 20 minutes.

But Dembele’s head didn’t drop for a second and the youngster continued to weave his magical patterns within Tuchel’s fluid attacking line-up. Though most often deployed as a winger, the former Rennes star was operating in a more central role, playing from out to in in a fashion reminiscent of the way Mkhitaryan became so vital for BVB last term.

Hoffenheim’s physical midfield and back three refused to go easy on the gangly Frenchman, forcing him to ride over-enthusiastic, borderline over-aggressive challenges in an effort to halt his forward progress.

But Dembele would not be halted, at least not yet. And, just minutes after Marco Reus was dismissed for a second yellow card, he registered his second assist of the game, presenting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with the chance to level the tie.

In the 69th minute, the game’s spark was extinguished as Hoffenheim’s roughhousing finally got the better of Dembele, who had to leave the field on a stretcher – apparently more a result of cumulative damage rather than any one particular challenge.

Two assists, six successful take-ons, six chances created – including two clear-cut opportunities – and three ball recoveries: it had been quite the outing for Dembele. Although, a pass completion rate of just 63.2 percent is perhaps evidence to his talent still being very raw, with further refinement required before he is ready to enter the echelon of the elite -- his decision-making is still flawed and further physical development is required.

But these are issues that will be remedied with time, experience and good coaching, all of which he’ll receive at Signal Iduna Park.

Possibly the most staggering attribute among Dembele’s myriad arsenal, more than anything technical, is his temperament. After all, this is a player who only made his professional debut with Rennes just over a year ago, yet outperformed a cast of superstars in Dortmund’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu earlier this month.

So much did the teenager impress, in fact, that it was rumoured that Los Blancos had used the fixture with Dortmund as an opportunity to secure a first option on the youngster, should BVB ever decide to cash-in on their £12.75 million summer investment.

Real Madrid probably aren’t the first continental mega-power to have their head turned by Dembele, and they certainly won’t be the last. Putting the minor holes in his game to one side, the French international offers both excitement and output in spades.

One of the few genuinely two-footed players in the game, Dembele’s ability to dribble equally effectively with either foot means that he doesn’t have the usual “tells” that betray the direction in which most wingers intend to carry the ball when taking on an opponent. And his sharp eye for a through-ball means that he is not just a dribble-happy show pony.

With an incredible return of 12 assists from 20 appearances so far this season, as well as four goals, the Dortmund No. 7 is as productive as he is exhilarating to watch.

His 57 completed take-ons this term gives him an average of 4.1 successful dribbles per game, more than any other player in the Bundesliga – the next best is RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita with 39 take-ons for an average of three per match.

His finishing can be a little erratic, but with such supreme balance, speed, fleetness of foot and vision, the Vernon-born prodigy already has all the tools to influence games at the highest level.

If he continues to develop at his current rate, Dembele is destined to be a Ballon d’Or contender in the not too distant future.