When Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin posed in a photograph alongside Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez and Thomas Lemar at France’s World Cup training camp in Istra in 2018, the image was supposed to symbolise the future of the Spanish side.
Gil Marin had tied down Griezmann to a new contract running until 2023, renewed Hermandez to 2024 and signed Lemar for €72 million to make him – at that time – the most expensive player in the club’s history.
But 18 months down the line, Griezmann is at Barcelona, Hernandez at Bayern Munich and Lemar is being offered around Europe after a disappointing season and a half at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atletico are keen to bring in a striker in the January transfer window and if a new centre-forward can be identified, Lemar will be sold. As reported by Standard Sport on Thursday, Chelsea have been sounded out about a move while Tottenham are also interested in the 24-year-old.
One of the most exciting young players in the world at AS Monaco and a World Cup winner with France, Lemar has not developed as expected in Spain and at this point, few fans would be sad to see him go.
Currently sidelined with a muscle problem, Lemar was left out of Atletico’s squad for the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia. It is his fifth minor injury since he signed joined the club and fitness issues have not helped his progress.
However, there are several more significant explanations behind his struggles for the Rojiblancos.
Lemar is a player who thrives in passing sides playing possession football. He needs to have the ball a lot and Atletico, under Diego Simeone, prefer not to have it much at all. Culturally and stylistically, he is not an ideal fit.
On top of that, the Frenchman has struggled to get to grips with Simeone’s defensive system, which demands a great deal of discipline in terms of marking and tracking back from midfielders.
In the Supercopa win over Real Madrid in August 2018, he played centrally and that is the position he likes the most. But over time, Simeone has chosen others to play inside and Lemar has had to feature on the wing, often from the bench.
Another alternative is to play him behind a striker, but that role was previously reserved for Griezmann and is now occupied by Joao Felix. Out on the wing, he has looked uncomfortable, burdened by the defensive work asked of him by his coach.
Simeone has no problem with the player. He trains well and gives his all on the pitch, but the Argentine is unhappy because the 24-year-old is not decisive in attack: he is not beating players, nor shooting at goal. More often than not, he has looked tired and predictable, and he makes a lot of mistakes marking opponents in defence.
“He has not been able to develop all the football he possesses,” Simeone said last week. “His characteristics have always made me enthusiastic, but he hasn’t responded to the expectations.”
Is he happy in Madrid?
After some early promise, the midfielder’s form has suffered and his happiness in Madrid may also have been affected by the departure of his two international team-mates: Griezmann and Hernandez.
When asked last week if he could be sold in the January transfer window, Simeone seemed indifferent.
“Whether he stays or not… we know that agents work brilliantly and clubs look to their needs,” he said
Right now, Atletico appear to need a new striker more than they need Lemar and the immense potential he showed at Monaco, especially in the Ligue 1-winning season in 2016-17 when he hit 14 goals in 55 appearances, now seems unlikely to be fulfilled in Madrid.
At another club with a more expansive style and a less rigid defensive system, though, he could still prove to be a big asset