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Barcelona's Ousmane Dembélé on Paris, growing up and playing alongside Lionel Messi

"It's honestly an honour for me to play alongside him," says the France winger of his Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi.

Ousmane Dembélé in UEFA Champions League action for Barcelona
Ousmane Dembélé in UEFA Champions League action for Barcelona Getty Images

"On the pitch he's a phenomenon," said Lionel Messi of his club-mate Ousmane Dembélé, with the French international forward flourishing in his fourth season at Barcelona.

As his side prepare to take on Paris in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, the 23-year-old Dembélé talks UEFA.com through his Camp Nou adventures and how it feels to play alongside "the best player in the history of football".

On the round of 16 tie against Paris

Barcelona v Paris memories

[The 'Remontada' in March 2017] will go down in history, especially for Barcelona – 4-0 in the [round of 16] first leg is very difficult to recover from for any team in Europe, even in the Champions League. But Barcelona did it with a great side, with world-class players like Neymar, Leo [Lionel Messi] and Andrés Iniesta.

There will be revenge in the air due to the media trying to spice up things. However, we don’t talk about it in the squad because we know it'll be a difficult game. We know Paris, they're the current Champions League runners-up. They're among the favourites to win the trophy, so we're focusing more on the game itself. [The 'Remontada'] was four or five years ago, a lot has changed on both sides.

On facing France team-mates Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappé

Are we already teasing one another by text message? No, not yet! But it will be a nice game against Presnel and Kylian, who have been playing incredibly well with Paris Saint-Germain and enjoying excellent seasons. Presnel has become a key player for PSG and Kylian, well, we know what he can do. So no, we’re not teasing one another through WhatsApp or texts, but I think it will be an excellent game.

On playing alongside Lionel Messi

There are world-class players here whom you learn from every day. I’ve been able to play alongside Andrés Iniesta, Luis Suárez. They gave me a lot of advice when I joined. Lionel Messi too.

Leo is a genius, we all know about him. He's a genius, he's the best player in the history of football. He inspired me when I was young, he inspires me now, and it's honestly an honour for me to play alongside him.

When I got here in 2017, I was told: "Don't look behind you when Leo has the ball at his feet. Go and run into space. Don't worry, the ball will reach you." I was constantly told that. When I start running, he always finds the pass and when he can't, he'll try again. It's like he's got eyes in the back of his head.

On his time at Barcelona

Time flies. I've changed a lot. How have I changed the most? Physically, I think. When I came here, I was very frail. Even when I was starting out professionally at Stade Rennais and Borussia Dortmund, I was very frail, but I've come on a long way at Barcelona with the physical trainers, etc. My way of training, my way of preparing for matches, it's all changed.

'It’s like he’s got eyes in the back of his head'
'It’s like he’s got eyes in the back of his head'VI-Images via Getty Images

The years go by and I'm growing up, so it's kind of normal for me to change a bit. I'm more comfortable, I feel good here in Barcelona and in my own life. Even though I had three years of little physical problems, those are the challenges of life, and that's just how it is. You have to face them with a smile.

On new Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman

The team is in top shape physically. And honestly, the way that [Koeman] manages the squad on a personal level is great. Everyone's happy with his arrival and the work that he's doing, and we're going to keep going. We're halfway through the season, we've got one or two aims, and we'll do our best to win some trophies.

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