Mario Lemina: The youngster for whom Southampton broke transfer record
No team has come back stronger than Juventus after being relegated. The side that was relegated in 2006 for their alleged involvement in a refereeing scandal has gone from strength to strength since their promotion to Serie A not only winning the league title on 6 occasions but also establishing themselves as European heavyweights.
Their success has largely been attributed to the side’s ability to bring in the right mix of talented youngsters and experienced professionals and that has put a lot of their younger players under extensive scrutiny.
French youngster Mario Lemina is one such talented youngster who spent the last 2 years on the books of Juventus before moving to Southampton in the current transfer window and in this segment, we profile the 23-year-old.
Born on 1st September 1993 in Libreville, Gabon, Lemina started his youth career at the French club Lorient at the age of 11.
After coming through the ranks of the Lorient academy, the Gabonese international was finally rewarded for his efforts in the youth side with his debut during the 2012-13 season and while he was used in bit part capacity, he had done enough to merit a move to a bigger club and that opportunity arrived when Marseille swooped in to sign him for €4 million at the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
It was tough initially for the youngster as he found game time hard to come by, but that changed quickly when the then manager of Marseille Marcelo Biesla decided he was good to be given regular starts at the club in the subsequent season - and Lemina did not disappoint.
He made 23 league appearances during the season for Les Olympiens and played a critical role in the side finishing a respectable 4th in the League.
In 2015, Lemina began to attract the interest of several Premier League clubs such as Liverpool and Southampton. However, it would be Juventus who sealed his signature with an initial loan move which could be made permanent for €9.5 milion.
While he did play relatively often for the Turin club, especially during the 2016-17 season, he perhaps believed that he could achieve a lot more away from the club in terms of his development.
Lemina moved to Southampton in August for a club record fee of €15.4 million and if his performances in the SerieA were any indication, it would prove to be a good piece of business by the Saints.
Style of play and strengths
Though he is a versatile player who has shown the capability of playing on the wings as well as in the middle of the park when required to, Lemina’s best performances for Juventus came when he was deployed as a central midfielder.
An industrious player, Lemina is very fluid with the ball at his feet and does not shy away from taking a man on and beating him with a mix of pace, power, intricate touch and skill on the ball.
In the last season, the player attempted 27 take-ons and completed 63% of them and that serves as an indication of how good he is with the ball at his feet.
However, you could move around with the ball with your feet and still not be able to contribute to your side’s chances if you cannot help out your attack.
That was not the case with Lemina as he showed a good ability to maintain possession of the sphere (he was dispossessed just once every 225 minutes on an average last season) and a great passing range (he completed 90% of the passes he attempted last season)while also maintaining the tempo of the game to his team’s benefit.
A central midfielder needs to do his fair share of dirty work in the middle of the park and Lemina is not afraid to get stuck in the boots of his opponents.
He is frequent and efficient with his tackling and also uses his vision to great effect so as to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm with vital interceptions and blocks.
If there is one glaring weakness in his game it has to be his decision making. The Gabonese international has the tendency to make the wrong decisions when going forward and while that did not negatively affect the results of the game at the Turin stadium, the story could be a lot different at St. Mary’s Stadium.
The Premier League is an unforgiving platform where even the best of performers tend to pay for their poor decision making and Lemina will be no exception to that.
Another aspect of his game that he will need to improve upon is his discipline. Over the course of his short career, the player has developed a reputation for being a hot head and it would perhaps prove dangerous if he does not curb his aggressive instincts in a league where players are stereotyped easily.
Quotes on Lemina
Having paid a club record fee for the 23-year-old, it does not come as a surprise that the Saints believe that they have acquired the services of one of the brightest young talent in world football and their vice-president (football) did not fail to shower praise on the youngster.
"Mario is an outstanding talent who has already achieved a great deal in his career, winning a number of titles and gaining experience of playing on some of the biggest stages in world football. Investing in a player of Mario’s quality and buying from a club like Juventus is a significant statement of intent from the club, and this is a purchase that has set another club-record fee. Mario will complement what is already an extremely strong group of midfield players in our squad, and we are excited about what he will bring to the group,” said Reed in an interview shortly after the unveiling of the Gabonese.
What comes next?
His desire to find regular playing time is what is believed to have ensured his transfer to Southampton and Lemina will be keen to leave a mark on the Premier League when he is afforded an opportunity. He is way too talented to be left on the bench.
While he would take some time adapting to a new country, the midfielder possesses the right physical and technical approach and could prove pivotal to Southampton’s chances of improving on their last season’s 8th placed finish.
Lemina has already established himself as a regular with the Gabonese national team, having already made 9 appearances for the country and now must prove his mettle in a new league under a new manager.
The going will get tougher as he is now part of a mid table club in Southampton but that would also give him the opportunity to showcase to the footballing world that he can thrive in a more important role than he was deployed at Southampton.
As for Southampton, while they might have paid a club record fee for the youngster, we believe it is a smart piece of business, especially at a time when transfer fees are getting more and more astronomical by the day.