Mario Lemina: Juve’s hot-headed loanee who Liverpool wanted this summer
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- Date of birth: September 1, 1993
- Place of birth: Libreville, Gabon
- Height: 6ft
- Position: Midfielder
- Current club: Juventus, loan (8 apps, 1 goal)
- Former club(s): Lorient, Marseille
Mario Lemina was born in Libreville (capital of Gabon) in September 1993. He made his breakthrough as a professional footballer in France with Lorient – the side whose academy he joined at the age of 11 – spending a single season with the first team at Stade du Moustoir as a teenager in 2012/13.
Marseille saw enough in the youngster to part with €4 million to bring him to the south coast two years ago. Lemina found minutes hard to come by initially, making only eight league starts in his debut campaign with l’OM before being including in Marcelo Bielsa’s line-up more regularly in 2014/15.
Another year of gradual improvement followed, with Serie A champions Juventus adding him to their ranks this summer on an initial loan deal. “I'm very happy,” Lemina said after signing on the dotted line. “This is the biggest club in Italy and an opportunity to show what I can do on the international stage.
“I’m going to have to show my qualities. I know that [Allegri] likes what I do on the pitch and that he will make me progress as a player. When I first arrived I was impressed… there are great champions here who have won a lot of trophies.”
Why you need to know him
Lemina has made a fine start to life in Turin, impressing a fanbase who have seen their fair share of talent down the years.
Despite being one of Juve’s most unheralded signings in the summer – the additions of Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira created far more headlines than the capture of Lemina – the midfielder has already shown his worth with some excellent displays in the engine room.
Juventus weren’t the only club fighting to secure his signature in the summer, with Liverpool, Southampton and West Ham United among those reportedly interested. The terms of Lemina’s loan deal give Juventus the right to purchase him permanently for €9.5 million at end of current campaign, but a host of Premier League sides will presumably be watching the Gabonese intently in case the Italians opt to look elsewhere.
Lemina is an all-action, hard-working midfielder who has added bite and energy to the Juventus midfield. Strong in the tackle and quick across ground, the 22-year-old is adept at breaking up play before driving forward with the ball at his feet. Lemina also possesses a decent range of passing – and while he is by no means the heir to Andrea Pirlo, he keeps the ball moving and usually distributes it in a sensible manner.
His versatility is another advantage, with Lemina capable of playing as a holder, in a box-to-box role, at right-back or even as part of a three-man defence.
Lemina developed a reputation as something of a hothead at Marseille, and discipline could become an issue for the fiery 22-year-old (see more on his Africa Cup of Nations snub later). He was sent off for punching current Sunderland forward Ola Toivonen in the crown jewels during a Ligue 1 clash with Rennes, and has picked up three yellow cards already this term.
The young Gabonese international has also highlighted concentration as an area of his game that requires further work. “The coach [Allegri] has asked me to integrate quickly with the rest of the squad because I play an important role in front of the defence, and I have to be more alert and focused,” he said shortly after moving to Turin in August.
Having never previously played more than 15 league games in a single season, Lemina became a key man for Bielsa’s Marseille outfit last year, making 23 appearances in Ligue 1 as l’OM finished fourth.
Lemina’s style of play suited Bielsa’s approach perfectly, and the Argentine was full of praise for the midfielder, among others.
“The French players have no limits preventing them from being part of any coach’s project,” El Loco said in April. “[Benjamin] Mendy, [Florian] Thauvin, Brice [Dja Djedje], [Gianelli] Imbula, Lemina, Michy [Batshuayi]: they will all end up at big clubs in major championships. They will eventually all be bought for €30 million.”
The coach has asked me to integrate quickly with the rest of the squad because I play an important role in front of the defence
Did you know?
Lemina rejected a call-up to Gabon’s Africa Cup of Nations squad earlier this year, with the midfielder thought to be holding out for France – with whom he won the Under-20 World Cup in 2013 – instead. That news did not appear to reach Didier Deschamps, however: with les Bleus failing to make an approach, Lemina announced that he had chosen to represent the country of his birth ahead of the Euro 2016 hosts last month.
“I chose Gabon, and I am very happy about it,” he said in an interview with RMC Sport. “I have signed all the important papers and agreed with the federation.”
Lemina made his debut for the Panthers against Tunisia last Friday, scoring with an excellent finish in a 3-3 draw.
What happens next?
For now, Lemina will simply be looking to build on his positive performances so far as Juventus look to close the gap on Fiorentina at the top of Serie A. The return to fitness of Khedira and Claudio Marchisio will only add to the fierce competition for places – as well as the aforementioned duo, Paul Pogba, Stefano Sturaro, Roberto Pereyra and Hernanes are all battling for starting spots in Allegri’s midfield.
While he has made a fine start to his Juventus career, it will be Lemina’s displays in the coming months that decide whether or not the Italian champions take up the option of purchasing him outright from Marseille. If they decide against it, Lemina won't be short of suitors from across the continent.