In contrast to last season, Monaco’s narrow victory at the weekend against Caen came in spite of, rather than because of, Thomas Lemar. As the French international left the Stade Michel d’Ornano, he was confronted with abuse from Monaco fans after another anonymous, lacklustre display. Such performances have come to characterise Lemar’s form in the last year, in a campaign that started with €100m Premier League bids, but might end with him losing his place in the French national team at the World Cup. Prospects of a dream move to Anfield also, at the time of writing, seem to be rapidly diminishing.
The rate with which Lemar’s effervescent form that helped Monaco to a glorious title last year has dissipated has been a major talking point of this Ligue 1 season. Last term’s combined tally of 28 goals and assists has dropped to an admittedly injury affect 10 so far this campaign while his trademark intensity has disappeared. Lemar’s waspish pressing became a feature of Les Monegasques’ title run, as did his mobility, pace and power. Now, the 22 year old regularly finds himself on the fringes of games, unable, perhaps even indifferent, to affect proceedings.
Troublesome thigh and shoulder issues have restricted his game time somewhat, but this remains one of a number of factors that have conspired to rob him of his form. Lemar is not alone, sales of Monaco’s premier performers over the summer has led to a general downturn in performances, with those left behind, Fabinho, Kamil Glik and Radamel Falcao in particular, also suffering. As a result, coach Leonardo Jardim has had to change tact, the iconic 4-4-2 of last term being used less and less, replaced by a more pragmatic 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
Beforehand, Lemar was given freedom to seek out space, join attacks or drop deep when he saw fit, playing closer to Falcao and Kylian Mbappé in the tighter spaces, which suited his supreme technical acumen. Now however, Lemar is often deployed as a left winger, where he can become isolated, or as a number 10, a role he seems oddly unsuited to. Known as quiet, even shy, off the pitch, Lemar is not one to dictate play or become a creative focal point. In bemoaning his son’s use by Monaco at the start of the year, Lemar’s father even went as far as to say: “He is not at 100% of what he can do… he still plays a little bit with the handbrake on, he is not completely liberated. Technically, he is capable of a lot more.”
Perhaps the principle reason for his drop off in impact is the evaporation of a Premier League move last summer. Interest from both Liverpool and Arsenal intensified as the window drew to a close, discussions with Liverpool in late August at one point included Divock Origi before his move to Wolfsburg, but unfortunately for Lemar, circumstances conspired against him. Liverpool’s various bids eventually culminated in a final €90m offer, made two days before the end of the window, but was rejected by Monaco and hawkish negotiator Vadim Vasilyev, who was holding out for €100m.
When Arsenal offered that sum less than 12 hours before the deadline, Monaco were willing to accept, but the deal came too late to finalise, with Lemar on international duty at the time. The consensus in France is that Lemar would almost certainly have joined either Arsenal or Liverpool in the summer if either club had had a bid accepted by Monaco in good time to complete the deal.
Although a winter transfer was always unlikely, Monaco not wanting to weaken themselves midseason given that making the Champions’ League is so crucial for their model, Lemar’s displays this season have carried a sense that he knows that his stay in the Principality is close to the end. In an interview with Téléfoot in March, he admitted his frustration but also was oddly explicit in stating he was playing for a move, rather than Jardim and Monaco: “I am not going to hide it, I was a bit disappointed. But there is no point fixating on that. I have continued to work so that these clubs might come back for me in the following transfer window.”
Having rejected a series of contract offers, Lemar, again, is intent on a summer move.
Liverpool, however, may have moved on. With Naby Keita to come, the €75m spent on Virgil Van Dijk, Monaco’s insistence on a huge fee and reports of an agreement with Lyon for Nabil Fékir are perhaps not all too surprising. The OL captain is in far better form, is more varied in his play and is likely to be somewhat cheaper. Meanwhile, although Arèene Wenger explained last summer, “€100m for Lemar? Yes all true, I wanted him. We will come back for him,” that promise now seems in doubt given Wenger’s departure.
Despite a downturn this campaign, Lemar’s talent is not in doubt and, assuming Liverpool and Monaco could reach a compromise on price, he would remain a sizeable catch for Jürgen Klopp. Klopp’s fluid 4-3-3 would suit the Frenchman, both in design and ethos. A slot as the most forward-thinking of a flexible midfield three would be Lemar’s ideal position, fitting his skillset perfectly, encouraging him to play off those around him while ghosting into awkward spaces where he is difficult to pick up.
Either way Lemar is unlikely to start next season with Les Monegasques. “My future? I am open to everything. I love all the different leagues,” he explained in the spring, seemingly open to options.
However, much could now hinge on his displays at the World Cup but amid strong form from a number of his competitors, Dimitri Payet in particular, Lemar may have managed to play himself out of contention for a start – a scenario unimaginable when nine figure bids arrived following a stunning brace in a 4-0 win over the Netherlands on deadline day. Perhaps Lemar should have followed his own advice, “fixating” on his disappointment might have cost him the move he seems to so desperately want.
by Adam White