Mario Lemina is a footballer from the Central African nation of Gabon. He has been part of several prominent European teams. He currently plays for the English club, ‘Southampton FC’ and for the national football team of Gabon. Rival club ‘Liverpool’ is reportedly eager to acquire him at the end of the 2017–2018 season. Lemina has previously played for the French clubs ‘Lorient’ (where he was part of both the youth and first teams) and ‘Marseille,’ before being transferred to Italian giants ‘Juventus,’ where he spent two seasons. He also represented France internationally, but recently switched to the ‘Gabonese Federation’ to be part of their national team. Lemina is right-footed and mostly plays as a central midfielder, due to his well-documented ability to gain possession and then start a retaliatory attack. His strengths lie in crossing and tackling, and he is also known to enjoy dribbling, crossing, and shooting from a distance.
Childhood & Early Life
Mario Lemina was born on September 1, 1993, in Libreville, Gabon. He currently holds Gabonese and French citizenships.
He joined the ‘Lorient’ youth team at the age of 11 and remained with them until the 2012–2013 season.
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Lemina’s efforts, while with the ‘Lorient’ youth team, were rewarded with a promotion to the first team during the 2012–2013 season, although he had begun training with the senior side at the age of 15. This was the only season he had spent with the team. Youth coach Regis Le Bris still remembers him fondly and states that his “…goal is that other young people follow the example of Mario.”
His work with the senior team of ‘Lorient’ was not extensive but impressive enough to warrant attention from other teams. The ‘Ligue 1’ team ‘Marseille’ acquired him for €4 million at the beginning of the 2013–2014 season. During his first season with ‘Marseille,’ he was not given much playtime and struggled to make much of an impact. He only made 8 league starts during this entire period.
In 2013, Lemina was part of France’s ‘Under-20’ and ‘Under-21’ teams. He was also part of the ‘U-20 World Cup’-winning French team, alongside Paul Pogba. His international coach at the time, Jose Anigo, believed Lemina had “above-average abilities.”
His second season with ‘Marseille’ (2014–2015) proved more fruitful, as manager Marcelo Bielsa began to make greater use of his talents and believed that “He is a different type of player to the majority of footballers.” Lemina was credited with helping ‘Marseille’ finish fourth in the league. He made 23 league appearances in the season. It must be noted that his tenure with ‘Marseille’ was not free of controversy. In February 2015, he was shown a red card and was punished with a four-game ban by the ‘Ligue de Football Professionnel’ (LFP), for punching ‘Rennes’ striker Ola Toivonen in the groin. His team supported him, claiming this punishment was “severe” and that he had exhibited good behavior earlier.
While playing for ‘Marseille,’ he was also called up by the Gabonese national team to play in the 2015 ‘African Cup of Nations,’ but he refused in the hope that France would select him instead. However, he later changed his mind and decided to join the ‘Gabonese Federation,’ and he continues to be an official member of the Gabonese national team. He scored 1 goal in a 3¬–3 friendly match against Tunisia in his debut for the ‘Panthers.’
Domestically, despite his disciplinary issues, 2015 proved to be a good year for ‘Lemina,’ as several ‘Premier League’ clubs began to show interest in him. Despite significant attention from ‘Southampton,’ ‘West Ham United,’ and ‘Liverpool,’ Mario was acquired by the Italian club ‘Juventus,’ which announced on August 31 that they had acquired him on a season-long loan for €500,000, with an option to buy the player at the end of the 2014–2015 season for €9.5 million. He was able to perform well at ‘Juventus,’ scoring his first goal on his third appearance for the team in a game against ‘Napoli,’ which ‘Juventus’ lost 2–1.
His work during this first season was remarkable enough to convince ‘Juventus’ manager Massimiliano Allegri to buy him for a four-year deal (with an additional €1 million to be dispensed if performance-related targets were met), despite his injury-related absence for much of the winter. Lemina began starting as a regular in the absence of midfielder Claudio Marchisio and was able to help ‘Juventus’ clinch a second consecutive ‘Serie A’ win during his two seasons with the club. Most notably, he played the full ‘Coppa Italia’ final against ‘AC Milan,’ which ‘Juventus’ won 1–0 to secure the second domestic double.
However, his aggressive behavior and lack of discipline put some strain on his relationship with Allegri. Lemina also expressed his desire to “play more,” paving the way for an early move to the English club ‘Southampton.’
In August 2017, he finally joined ‘Southampton’ for a record club-fee of £15.4 million. He played his first match for the ‘Saints’ on August 20, helping them secure a 3–2 win against ‘West Ham United.’ Despite an ankle injury that continues to bother him occasionally and a particularly brutal loss to ‘Tottenham’ on Boxing Day in 2017, Lemina impressed his fans, especially in his matches against ‘Crystal Palace’ and ‘Manchester United.’
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‘League’ leader ‘Liverpool FC’ is reported to be interested in acquiring the player next. ‘Liverpool’ manager Jurgen Klopp has already procured five of ‘Liverpool’s current squad members from ‘Southampton.’ Reputed sources such as ‘L’Equipe’ and ‘France Football’ claim that the ‘Reds’ will buy the Gabonese midfielder next season.
Awards & Achievements
Lemina was part of the French team that won the 2013 ‘U-20 World Cup.’
He played for ‘Juventus’ in the 2015–2016 and the 2016–2017 seasons as the club clinched two consecutive domestic doubles.
His move to ‘Southampton’ prompted the club to pay a record £15.4 million as his transfer fee. He attempted 27 take-ons in the 2016–2017 season and was able to complete at least 63% of these. He also completed 90% of all the passes he undertook that season and only had the ball taken away from him once every 225 minutes, on an average.
He has a son named Neals Lemina. The midfielder considers Neals his “inspiration” and has stated that despite his separation from his son’s mother, they both remain proud of him.
He has also been involved in a relationship with Fanny Neguesha, a Belgian model and singer and the ex-fiancée of former ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Manchester City’ striker Mario Balotelli. In March 2018, Lemina announced on his ‘Instagram’ account that Neguesha was expecting his second child (and their first together).
Lemina is known as a “flamboyant character” and a “hot-head,” as exemplified by his attack on Toivonen.
He is known for his ability to break up play and keep the ball moving. His versatility has also served him well, allowing him to play as a holder, in the right-back and as part of a three-man defense.
His weaknesses as a player include his lack of decision-making skills and his occasional lack of focus. Lemina himself has identified “concentration” as an aspect that needs further attention.