April 18, 2024

Southampton never got the most out of their current Premier League machine.
Southampton, who finished bottom of the Premier League last season in a dismal campaign overall, have a real chance of returning to the top level this season.

Although their chances of finishing in the top two appear slim now, with Leeds United pulling away from the Saints and Southampton suffering a poor run of form, Russell Martin will not be deterred by his side potentially entering the playoff lottery, given the immense talent at his disposal on the South Coast.

Adam Armstrong, Flynn Downes, and many more for Martin’s side have shone out in the drop to the second division, with the ex-Newcastle United striker in particular taking the Championship by storm with 18 goals in 36 games.

Despite many of the current Saints squad excelling and enthralling fans at St. Mary’s, there is no doubt some lingering regret from a Southampton perspective about how things ended up with this dud when he was sold nearly three years ago in 2021.

Mario Lemina’s time at Southampton

Southampton broke the bank to sign Mario Lemina in 2017, paying a club record sum of £18 million.

The deal was hailed as a coup by the Saints, with then-vice-chairman Les Reed describing their new Gabonese recruit as “outstanding.”

However, much like other bodies through the door in that summer transfer window and later in January – with Wesley Hoedt and Guido Carillo never really settling at St. Mary’s in other major flops – Lemina would struggle to ever show why the Saints spent so much money to sign him.

Even in his Premier League debut, Lemina would only last 65 minutes before being replaced by James Ward-Prowse, the former Southampton midfielder who joined the Hammers last year after stealing Lemina’s thunder against them.

The former Juventus player went on to make 52 appearances for Southampton over two dismal seasons before leaving the South Coast club for the pleasures of France at OGC Nice.

Southampton would suffer a disastrous loss on their one-time record-breaking signing, but would have been grateful just to have him off their books after two loan spells at Galatasaray and Fulham demonstrated Lemina’s unwillingness to stay with the Saints and fight for his place.

According to Football Transfers, the Ligue 1 club would be able to step in and get the Saints dud for a reduced sum of €5.5 million (£4.7 million), a far cry from the hefty £18 million formerly required to acquire the Gabonese midfielder from Southampton’s perspective.

To his credit, the 6-foot holding midfielder has turned around his stuttering career, which began when he moved to France after leaving St. Mary’s.

Mario Lemina’s redemption after Southampton

Lemina would smoothly integrate into the Nice squad following a stop-start spell in England, appearing in 32 games and scoring two goals in his first season in Ligue 1.

One of those attempts was a delightfully executed first-time shot that helped his new employers win 2-1 against RC Lens, and Lemina was enjoying his game again in an eclectic Nice lineup that included Kasper Dolberg and Justin Kluivert, to name a few.

That would pique the interest of Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were successful in their approach for the ex-Saints flop in January of last year, with a price of €11 million (£9.4 million) enough to entice Nice to part ways with their redeemed star-man.

 

Lemina would join the Wolves midway through the 2022/23 season, and his importance to the cause at Molineux would only grow at the end of the season, when players such as Ruben Neves in holding midfield left the club amid sweeping turmoil.

Under Gary O’Neil, Lemina has transformed into a true midfield machine in the West Midlands, with any demons from his Southampton move now a distant memory.

Mario Lemina’s time at Wolves

Mario Lemina, Wolves' smiling midfield destroyer - The Athletic

 

Football scout Umir described Lemina as a “unbelievable” footballer early in his Wolves career, and he is now arguably one of the first names on O’Neil’s teamsheet when he considers his Old Gold starting lineups.

The former Saints midfielder has appeared in 25 of Wolves’ 28 league games this season, with Lemina’s squad performing admirably in the Premier League, now sitting in ninth place.

The imposing presence of Lemina in the middle of the park has allowed Wolves to dream big, with the Old Gold number five becoming into a resilient defensive option for his West Midlands employers as well as a consistent goal scorer.

Lemina has more than doubled his Southampton goal tally of two this season, with five next to his name across all competitions.

The midfielder scored in back-to-back games last December when Wolves won two in a row against Chelsea and Brentford, including a 1-0 triumph over the Blues on Christmas Eve.

 

Lemina will be grateful that he has found his footing in English football with Wolves, after a rough start on the South Coast had many questioning his star status.

The essential cog in the Wolves machine may be reminded of his prior Southampton ties next season, however, if Martin’s side return to the Premier League at the first attempt.

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