Southampton made Mario Lemina their club-record signing, as the midfielder joined from Juventus for a reported £15.4m, which could rise to £18.1m.
St Mary’s Musings got the lowdown on Lemina to know if his price tag was worth it from Juventus expert Adam Digby. Adam, who is the Italian football writer for beIN SPORT, FourFourTwo and Sport360, is also the author of “Juventus: A History in Black & White”.
St Mary’s Musings: For the Southampton fans who've only seen Lemina from a brief watch on YouTube, what kind of midfielder is he?
Adam Digby: He’s a combative, energetic defensive midfielder. Lemina improved his tactical awareness in the manner you’d expect after two years in Italy, reads the game well and is very good when not expected to do too much on the ball. He can occasionally surprise you with a good piece of skill or a smartly taken goal, but those are exceptions rather than the norm!
SMM: For the few games he has managed so far, Mauricio Pellegrino has set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation similar to how Juventus were set up at times last season. How well did he fit in that particular system?
AD: Well here’s the problem from last season. When Juve switched to that formation, Lemina ended up as cover for one of the trident behind Gonzalo Higuain and that didn’t help him at all. Yes, it meant the team could press high up the pitch but he’s far too limited to play in that advanced role. In a double-pivot as part of that two-man midfield he’ll be great.
SMM: Saints have had a few players like Dani Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez who struggled with the transition to English football from Italian football. Is Lemina better suited?
AD: Yes. No surprise that those are South American players who didn’t enjoy the food, culture and weather combination Britain has to offer! Lemina is a Gabon international who played for two different clubs in France before moving to Italy, he’s going to slot right in, no problem. One massively overlooked talking point I find is the sheer physicality of Ligue 1, we often discuss differences between leagues but French football definitely shares that trait with the Premier League and players who’ve played there never seem overawed by English football.
SMM: The fee has been announced by Juventus as €17m with €3m in add ons. Who is getting the better end of the deal right now, and who may get the better end in say two or three years time?
AD: I’d say it’s a good deal all round right now. Juve are making a profit on the €10m they invested last summer to sign him outright from Marseille, Southampton are getting a player ready to contribute immediately but one who will improve over the next couple of years so you can double your money when Liverpool eventually come calling…
SMM: Saints beat off plenty of rumoured competition to land Lemina. What do you think it was about Southampton that appealed most to the midfielder?
AD: I would say the chance of regular playing time and a club with a reputation for developing talent. Players are aware of that and the reputation of both Southampton as a club and the Coaching staff in general is superb, they know how to get the best from young players and help them to reach their full potential. That’s exactly what Lemina needs and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him thriving right off the bat.