Atletico Madrid made forward Thomas Lemar their club record signing last summer when they splashed out €70m to secure his signature from Monaco. It outstripped the sum they had spent on Diego Costa from Chelsea six months earlier, with the Frenchman arriving amid much furore.
Yet the return has been disappointing from the 23-year-old has proved to be disappointing. He hit the winner in Saturday’s victory at Eibar but that was only the second La Liga match in which he scored in 26 outings. It was also his first in two months, with his two other league strikes coming in a victory at Getafe in August.
Earlier this week, Lemar tried to explain why his inaugural season in the Spanish capital had proven difficult so far: “There are very high demands at this club, because of the system you cannot relax defensively and this is a new challenge that is meaning I have to improve and add to my game.”
Lemar is not alone in the list of attacking players who have struggled in Atleti’s system. Jackson Martinez arrived for a notable €40m fee from FC Porto in 2015 after a prolific spell in Portugal but never settled in Diego Simeone’s side and was soon off to China. Kevin Gameiro joined for €30m from Sevilla the following year but there were further struggles and is now at Valencia. Yannick Carrasco, Mario Mandzukic, Alessio Cerci, Luciano Vietto and Raul Jimenez are others who arrived for big money and with little return. Costa, since his return, also now must fall into that bracket.
The demands of Atleti’s system, those to which Lemar alluded, go a long way to explaining why so many forwards have struggled at the club. There is a great duty to exercise tactical discipline and understanding, not only in an attacking sense but also defensively. Players are allowed limited tactical freedom and it takes time for many to adapt into this, as has been the case for Lemar.
That has led to question marks over his future, but the player has come out to deny that this is bothering him and he has vowed to fight for his future: “Whatever is said or written about me does not affect me,” Lemar told Telefoot, as cited by Marca. I know my season has not been at my top level but that has nothing to do with the transfer fee and leaving here is not something I have thought about. It is normal for people to raise their expectations for me but it is important to remember this is a new club and a new league that I have to adapt to, and I will improve.”
Next season could be a defining one for Lemar.
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