If he is lucky, Thomas Lemar might just find himself sitting among the Atletico Madrid substitutes for Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 clash against Liverpool. Had he been even luckier, the French forward would have been preparing to take on Diego Simeone’s team as a key cog in Liverpool’s attempts to defend the European Cup.
As it stands, Lemar, 24, is simply waiting for his nightmare in Madrid to come to an end after securing a dream move to the Wanda Metropolitano in July 2018.
Lemar’s move to Atletico Madrid happened less than a year after Liverpool had booked a medical for the player, believing they had sealed a deal with Monaco for the youngster in the final days of the 2017 summer transfer window. Since missing out on that move to Anfield, Lemar’s career has stalled. Only last month, Atletico coach Simeone admitted that the Spanish club were open to offers for Lemar during the January window, with the Argentine delivering a blunt assessment of his season-and-a-half at the club.
“The facts speak for themselves, better than words,” said Simeone about Lemar’s time at the club. “It is certain that he [Lemar] has not been able to show all his qualities. Each time that he has been available, I have tried to play him and I have always been enthusiastic about his qualities as a player. He has not met the expectations set for him, but we have always had the same expectations.”
Of course, Liverpool have moved on pretty successfully since their near-miss with Lemar, reaching two Champions League finals (winning one) and spending £75 million on defender Virgil van Dijk in the subsequent January 2018 window. As for Lemar, things could not have gone much worse. Monaco had been holding out for £92m for the left-sided forward when Liverpool and Arsenal fought for his signature in late-summer 2017, but when they eventually sold him 11 months later, he still went to Atletico for the substantial figure of £63m.
As a player capable of playing out wide or as a No. 10, Lemar emerged as one of the most exciting prospects in Europe during Monaco’s run to the Champions League semifinals in 2017, scoring 14 goals in 55 games in all competitions. Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Radamel Falcao stole the headlines during Monaco’s remarkable run to the last four, but Lemar was not far behind in terms of his impact. Suffice to say, Liverpool were frustrated to miss out on a player Jurgen Klopp believed could be a transformative force. That player turned out to be Mohamed Salah.
Earlier this month, after introducing Lemar as a second-half substitute during the 1-0 defeat against Real Madrid, Simeone once again questioned the contribution of the France international when he said: “Lemar came on and couldn’t respond to the game in the way we needed.”
So how has one of Europe’s brightest young talents failed so spectacularly to shine at Atletico?
The statistics are fairly damning. In 23 appearances this season, he has yet to score or create a goal for Simeone’s side, who go into the Liverpool tie sitting in fourth position in La Liga, marginally ahead of fifth-placed Sevilla on goal difference. Last season was little better, with Lemar scoring just three times and registering six assists, in 43 appearances. Simeone has struggled to find a role for Lemar, but equally, the player himself has found it almost impossible to adjust to the demands of playing for Atletico, who have always been one of the most tenacious and hardest-working teams in Europe under Simeone. A source close to Lemar told ESPN that his failure to succeed is down to several factors, but that ultimately, Atletico was the wrong choice for the player.
“He is a good kid,” the source told ESPN. “He is a good professional with a good entourage: he has his own chef, personal physio and he doesn’t go out or drink. But Atleti were the wrong choice. He doesn’t fit the way they play and he is too much of an introvert, too nice maybe, to be a real Simeone player.
“Lemar thought that working with Simeone would make him tougher and make him a more complete player, but it hasn’t worked out for him. He didn’t think that the Premier League was the right league for him and that Spain was more suited to his qualities and he is probably right.”
Lemar’s fee and his wages, in excess of £200,000 a week, priced him out of a move away from Atletico last month, but it is likely that a deal will be found for him to leave the club this summer. Where he goes next, however, is the big question.
He is not convinced by the prospect of a move to England and a return to France is only likely if Paris Saint-Germain develop an interest. It could have been a different story had he moved to Liverpool, but the big loser in that failed deal was Lemar. When he watches from the bench on Tuesday, that reality will hit home for the former Monaco star.