Le50 2016: Thomas Lemar – AS Monaco
Asked to describe Thomas Lemar’s ability, former team-mate Alaeddine Yahia said “his left foot is amazing – it’s like a hand – he puts the ball where he wants”. So Foot magazine said that Lemar’s cross-field balls, delivered with his left foot, should be UNESCO-protected. Anthony Martial said of him “he’s small, thin, frail, but he never loses the ball – technically he is huge”. The queue of players and pundits lining up to shower praise on Monaco’s young star is striking and well-deserved.
Brought up in Guadeloupe, Lemar was spotted and brought over to France by Caen’s youth development director Philippe Tranchant, who said of first seeing Lemar: “he was a head shorter than everyone else, but you could see only him”. Lemar made his Caen debut, aged 18, on the opening day of the 2013/14 Ligue 2 season, adding only six more appearances, five as substitute, and notching one assist, as Caen were promoted to Ligue 1.
Last season Lemar saw more game time, making a total of 25 appearances, starting only seven of them. In the final three months of the season he began to show his potential, as a regular run of appearances led to three assists and a match-winning free kick, which crept in from wide on the right, against Nantes.
If his end-of-season form began to bring him some recognition, the summer of 2015 pushed it up a couple of notches. First he starred for France’s under-20s, featuring in all five matches and providing much of the attacking impetus as they won the Toulon tournament. Then he became one of Monaco’s summer signings, joining the club for £3 million.
Only 19 at the start of the campaign, Lemar set his season’s objectives as simply “to get some game time and settle well into the squad”. However, with Monaco making several sales and their early form suffering, he was given his chance in matchday 3 against Toulouse. Coming on after an hour, with his first touch he received a pass around 25 yards out, moved to the right, saw his path blocked by a couple of defenders, calmly turned and moved to the left and unleashed a powerful low shot which whistled into the net.
That sealed his place in the first team squad and, until an injury in late October put him out of action for six weeks, he was indisputably Monaco’s stand-out performer, scoring two more and coming up with two assists. He has not quite hit those heights since returning from injury but has remained one of Monaco’s best and most consistent performers, totalling five goals and six assists and deservedly earning a Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year nomination.
Lemar, who can play on either wing but is most suited to the Number 10 role, has exquisite technique, with a cushion of a first touch and excellent dribbling skills. His short- and long-range passing are impressive and his dead-ball delivery is so good that he quickly deposed João Moutinho as chief free kick taker.
Of his six Ligue 1 goals to date, three have come from direct free kicks; the one at former club Caen, which he hit across Rémy Vercoutre and into the far corner from 25 yards, showed guile as well as skill: as Caen defender Dennis Appiah observed after the match: “Rémy is used to Thomas’ free kicks and he anticipates a bit. Usually he curls it over the wall. He hardly ever shoots across the goal like that.”
That goal – followed by a sheepish apology from Lemar – was applauded by both sets of fans, indicating his popularity. As Ricardo Carvalho has observed: “he is so talented and on top of that a lovely guy. We have high hopes for him”.
Tranchant has highlighted another of his strengths – making a daring but not unreasonable comparison: “he always makes himself available, makes runs to ensure that he is always giving the player in possession a solution. He senses the game well ahead of the others… he has the same profile as Iniesta”.
Even at this early stage it is hard to find weaknesses in Lemar’s game – the only obvious area that needs to be worked on is his physicality, bulking up and improving on his stamina in order not to be bullied by bigger defenders. Now also a regular under-21 international, Lemar has recently confirmed that he is happy at Monaco and pleased with how he is progressing there. On Monaco’s recent form for selling off their young talents at a huge profit, that may not be enough to keep him on Le Rocher – and Bayern are known to be sniffing around already.
If there’s any justice in the world, Lemar will be a hit wherever he ends up.