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How a £92m world beater effectively went missing for the last five months

Atletico Madrid is where promising signings go to die

Just 18 months ago Arsenal – yes Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal – really were prepared to fork out £92m to sign Thomas Lemar from Monaco.

The Ligue 1 side were already haemorrhaging their finest talents at a rate of knots, but such an eye-watering fee was impossible to resist.

There was a snag though; Lemar wanted Champions League football – something the Gunners couldn’t offer him – and the deal collapsed.


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A £92m dodged bullet?

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A £92m dodged bullet?

Everybody wanted him – Barcelona and Liverpool included – before he completed a mega €70m move to Atletico Madrid, becoming their club record signing.

But old habits die hard at Atleti.

In the last four summers Diego Simeone has made statement attacking acquisitions with the intention of transforming his side into far more than just a resolute defensive unit.

Diego Costa, Kevin Gameiro, Nico Gaitan and Jackson Martinez all arrived under great fanfare.

Remember him?

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Remember him?

But only Costa remains, football’s ultimate b****** contributing just four La Liga goals in 13 months.

Lemar was meant to buck the trend.

Fresh off the back of winning the World Cup and finishing last season as Monaco’s most potent creative asset, he was tipped to dovetail perfectly with French compatriot Antoine Griezman.

But, like many marquee signings before him, it hasn’t worked out that way.

A bromance made in France

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A bromance made in France

Lemar’s only goal in the last six months came against Spanish fourth tier side Sant Andreu in the Copa del Rey, which doubled his tally for the season in all competitions.

The French winger hasn’t contributed a single La Liga goal or assist since the final week of September.

It’s more than just basic stats too, with his final ball and touch astray which prompted Simeone to ask for ‘patience’ with him.

This season, yet again, is very much a case of Groundhog Day at Atleti, reverting back to their tried and trusted stoic ways after another ultimately unconvincing attempt to become more gung-ho.

The general

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The general

Lemar is the latest to fall victim to this inevitable, endless flowchart under Simeone.

It’s been a very Simeone campaign; the best defence in La Liga but fewer goals than Celta Vigo and Levante. Rinse and repeat, season after season.

It’s hardly surprising given the snarly Argentine’s commitment to his select band of brothers. Koke, Saul Niguez and co. are part of the furniture.

The ultimate Simeone prototype

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The ultimate Simeone prototype

But there are questions over its longevity.

Simeone perhaps faces his most challenging six months to date, with the indomitable Diego Godin joining Inter Milan in the summer and the impregnable Jan Oblak’s future uncertain.

How does he replace one, perhaps two of his defensive foot soldiers? Or will this summer be a watershed moment, an enforced switch to a more attacking approach?

Next for the scrap heap?

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Next for the scrap heap?

Lemar will be hoping it’s the latter, but is that really the Atleti way?

In recent weeks the more disciplined and versatile Vitolo – essentially Koke MK11 – has been preferred to the Frenchman.

So can Lemar weather the debut-season storm and become a success? Or will he become the latest addition to the Atleti attacking scrap heap?


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