Why has Thomas Lemar failed to shine at Atletico Madrid?
Background image: Event, CC BY-SA 4.0
Thomas Lemar was nowhere to be found as Atletico Madrid secured a rare 3-2 win over Barcelona in the semi-final of the Spanish Super Cup on Thursday. It's a real fall from grace when a player that was once tipped to rise to the very top of the game just a few years ago becomes the subject of ridicule. Such is now the case with Lemar at the Wanda Metropolitano.
A move to the Spanish capital in the summer of 2017 was preferred over Arsenal and even Liverpool. In hindsight, it's difficult to see how the French forward would have proved to be a huge success under Diego Simeone given the stark contrast between the player's style and attitude to that of his manager and new club.
Simeone's fierce nature has carried on from his days as a player to his time at the dugout. The Argentine usually ends a game as worn out as most of the players on the pitch. He holds nothing back and demands the same from his squad. Little wonder then, that his team maintains a high level of intensity during games, remains compact and difficult to break down. Players like Gabi, Diego Godin, Koke and Diego Costa have excelled under his tutelage over the years by exemplifying such qualities.
Comparing them to Lemar is like comparing day and night. They are opposites. While the former favour aggression and tough tackling on the field of play, the latter prefers slickness and prioritises the use of the brain over brawn. In fact, Lemar revealed while at the peak of his powers at Monaco years back that he "tries to avoid duels and concentrates on passing and movement,” pointing out Andres Iniesta as his role model in the game.
After scoring 14 goals and setting up another 18 to help Monaco to the Ligue 1 title in 2017, the diminutive winger became a wanted man. Top sides looking for the next up-and-coming talents that would help them reach their goals began to circle. It was now a matter of picking the right fit.
With Arsenal and Liverpool in the mix, that seemed like an easy decision to make. Arsene Wenger was determined to re-engineer a spark in his underperforming team in order to silence the critics. Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, was trying to bring Liverpool out of the wilderness.
It came as a surprise to many that the Caen youth product would prefer a move to Atletico instead. Whether that was more due to his agent's influence than any other factor is unclear. But Simeone's recent comments suggest it's all in the mix. The Argentine gaffer held nothing back in his assessment of the player's time at the club while speaking to the media. He stated in clear terms that the Frenchman has failed to live up to expectations at the Spanish capital.
“Facts speak better than words. Lemar is an important player who hasn’t been able to develop his game but who has characteristics that other players don’t have...
“Now, if Lemar can stay or not...we know that agents work in an exemplary way. Clubs work in terms of the needs of the clubs. But, as a footballer, every time he has been available, he’s played a lot more than he hasn’t played. His characteristics have always excited me. But he hasn’t been able to live up to expectations,” Simeone said.
That would leave the 24-year-old at the crossroads whether or not to secure a move away during the current transfer window.
And why not?
Although the manager is well within his rights to make such damning comments. Having splashed out £52.7 million for the versatile forward, he was expected to provide the goals and assists that would help Los Rojiblancos dominate both La Liga and Europe.
Unfortunately, over the course of 17 months and 64 appearances, Lemar has contributed only three goals and six assists to the cause. Worse still, none of them have come this season, despite making 21 appearances in all competitions for the side. Having failed to gain the manager's trust, a move away will be best for all parties involved.
The opportunity to go to Liverpool may not be there anymore. But the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and even Lyon back home could provide the right environment to help him rediscover his form. Frank Lampard has the Blues playing some fantastic football favouring slick free-flowing attacking play but the end product has been poor. Under the current regime, Lemar would definitely flourish at Stamford Bridge and find his scoring boots again. The same would apply at Tottenham, with Jose Mourinho in need of firepower upfront.
Back home, Lyon desperately needs backup for the injured Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Lemar will slot into the side perfectly. He will also add much-needed quality to a team that has struggled to replicate the success of previous years. For the player, that will also serve to correct an error in judgement that is threatening to destroy a once blossoming career...