Player Profiles: Mario Lemina
Mario Lemina was one of the few players to have performed well in a mediocre Southampton side that survived a fierce relegation scrap by the skin of their teeth. The Gabonese international has been an effective midfielder for the clubs he has played for and, despite just one season for the Saints, has been linked with a move away. Manchester City have shown interest in Lemina and will be looking to increase the depth of their central midfield considering the array of talent they have out wide.
Mario René Junior Lemina began his career at Lorient with their youth academy and a solitary season for their senior team. A move to Marseille followed in 2013/14 who acquired his services for €4 million. His first season consisted of just 8 league starts and an obvious lack of game time for a highly rated youngster at the time. However, Lemina the season after played a far more significant role in Marcelo Bielsa’s plans. The midfielder made 23 appearances providing both solidity and drive which helped Les Olympiens earn a 4th place finish.
However, Lemina’s punch to Ola Toivonen’s groin (for which he was sent off) received substantial and deserved criticism. Nonetheless, this moment of madness did not overshadow his impressive season hence why Europe’s top clubs were interested in his signature.
With Liverpool, West Ham and future club Southampton interested, Lemina had an abundance of routes to choose from. Yet it was the old lady Juventus that got him to put pen to paper on an initial loan deal (€500,000) with an option to buy for €9.5 million. A domestic double in the 2015/16 in Italy was a brilliant start, but alongside this he had established himself as an effective rotation player with sublime versatility. Juventus took up the option to move him to Turin on a permanent basis and he continued to perform consistently when called upon.
A successive domestic double followed in the 2016/17 season with Lemina starting in the Coppa Italia Final victory. A spanner in the work, however, was Juve’s acquisition of the imperial Bosnian Miralem Pjanic. This meant Lemina had fallen down the pecking order and desired first team football. Juventus were willing to let him leave the Allianz Stadium and this pricked up the ears of Southampton.
He was brought to Saint Mary’s for £15.4 million in 2017. This season Lemina has been crucial for the limited success Southampton have had. A goal against West Brom in a 3-2 victory was vital for Southampton’s narrow escape. With 88% pass accuracy, he was by far their best midfielder in an otherwise disappointing season.
Lemina is a hard working and powerful midfielder. His physical attributes such as high stamina allow him to be an effective box to box midfielder, his preferred position. what sets the Gabonese international from the rest is his incredible versatility. He is able to play as a winger, wing-back or even at center back, making him a superb squad player for a Top 6 team. One thing that may not be in his favour is his reputation for losing his temper, which in the past has overshadowed the talent he possesses.
At 24 years of age, Lemina has time and the potential to improve. A move to Manchester City will allow him to learn to play in a Pep Guardiola system with world class players that will both aid his development alongside his quest for silverware. Yet at 24 and currently at a Premier League side, Southampton may demand a high fee, possibly deterring The Citizens. Also, Lemina has only got first team football for the second team in his career which at the Etihad will almost certainly diminish.
Lemina is a talented midfielder and, if he is to fulfill his potential, capable of playing week in week out for an elite team. A move to City would benefit him and Manchester City’s squad depth, a move both parties would be happy with. With his quality, many neutrals will hope Mario Lemina can develop into a world-class midfielder. Whether Manchester will be the correct destination for this, only time will tell.