Thomas Lemar: Baie-Mahault’s crevette

Crevettes are pretty popular in Guadeloupe. Whether served in a stew or with dumplings, these little critters really hit the spot. In 2008, when a Caen youth coach visited the island, it wasn’t to sample crevettes but an exciting talent who was just as small but stood out from the crowd: Thomas Lemar.

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Crevettes in a coconut milk stew served with dumplings (Photo credit: UnePlumedanslaCuisine.com)

Baie-Mahault is the collision point where two islands meet to form Guadeloupe. An area with rich soil and bays right out of a postcard, this is where the young Lemar was born. Enrolled by his father into local club Solidarité Scolaire at 7, it didn’t take long for the introverted and diminutive tyro to attract attention.

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Sky view of Baie-Mahault

A whirlwind of guile and ball-sticking technique fast tracked Lemar into older age groups. Frank Louis the regional technical advisor of football, would use the Baie-Mahault native as a “guinea-pig” to prove to youth coaches in training, that ball control could be mastered at a young age.

It’s easy for a talent and his entourage to get carried away, fast-tracking a career before it even starts could prove fatal. Luckily the Lemars had Louis who became a close friend. His experience with the French Football Federation taught him that prospects need time to develop before making the professional leap.

The setup at Solidarité Scolaire also grounded Lemar. Founded in 1917 by a group of teachers, the club expects all of its players to excel in the classroom first then the pitch. If you don’t graft you don’t play.

French clubs were starting to circle, Normandy club Caen were the first to make their move in the form of youth coach Philipe Tranchant who had made the 7000km journey just to see Lemar. Impressed with how the 13-year-old maneuvered opponents and the irregular Guadeloupean pitches, the left-footer was put on Tranchant’s wish list.

It didn’t help that Louis told Tranchant that Lemar “Is the best player Guadeloupe has ever had,” in all their categories. A lofty thing to say, considering that France’s most capped player Lilian Thuram and Marius Trésor all hailed from the island. Having seen and heard enough, Tranchant took the then 15-year-old to Normandy.

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Lemar & N’Golo Kanté were teammates in Normandy (Photo credit: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

The first steps in the hexagon weren’t easy for the Guadeloupean, winter, home sickness and headaches would have been an easy excuse to down tools, but the love for the game took him from the reserves to the first team. Soon French crowds got to see the islanders cultured left foot in action.

Lemar was never really a starter at Caen, instead a move to As Monaco would prove to be his real breakthrough. Deployed behind the striker in his formative years, Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim uses him on the left-wing of a young vibrant squad. His 14 goals and 17 assists contributed to their title triumph last season.

Champions de France 🏆🏆🎉🎊 merci à tous pour vos messages ⚪️🔴 @asmonaco

A post shared by Thomas ⚽️🙏 (@thom_lemar27) on

Now a French international, it seems the best of Lemar is yet to come. It remains to be seen if Louis’ claim of Guadeloupe’s greatest will hold in the future, suffice to say, Baie-Mahault’s crevette is in a rich stew that will delight many mouths.

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Kylian Mbappé: The world is yours

The away section at the Etihad erupted into cheers. The individual responsible for their joy had latched onto a long ball and slammed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. His first goal in the Champions League. At 18 years and two months, he became the second youngest French goalscorer behind Karim Benzema in the competition. Take a bow Kylian Mbappé.

On his first start in the Champions League, the young dynamo dovetailed brilliantly with strike partner Radamel Falcao and tormented the Manchester City defense with a combination of pace and fearless dribbling. It was a remarkable performance considering his tender age and has effectively put him on the world stage. The fact that Monaco lost the game 5-3 mattered not, the top goalscorers in Europe had offered their interpretation of attacking football: progressive, incisive passes and clinical finishing.

The English press were full of praise for the Ligue 1 side and most of it was aimed at Mbappé. However, those across the English channel and followers of Ligue 1 have had the player in their consciousness for a while.

Kylian Mbappé Lottin grew up in Bondy, part of the northeastern suburbs of Paris. Mbappé’s education started at AS Bondy where his father Wilfried  coached. He impressed enough to earn a place at the prestigious football academy Clairefontaine, an institution where William Gallas, Louis Saha, Blaise Matuidi, Thierry Henry etc all cut their teeth.

During his apprenticeship, the Bondy native had most of the French clubs on his case. Finally it was AS Monaco who won the race for his signature. The principality club are shrewd operators in youth football. Locally they never had a huge talent pool to pick from, instead they scout the six corners of the hexagon and recruit players from the age of 14 who have already received the fundamental education.

The fact that Monaco gives these youth a chance to challenge for a first team place is also a strong selling point. The likes of Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Anthony Martial have all benefited from this approach.

Mbappé debuted for the seniors against Caen on 2 December, 1998. At 16 years and 347 days he broke Thierry Henry’s record (17 and 14 days) as the youngest “monégasque” to feature in the league. Two months later the record of youngest goalscorer was also taken from Henry (17 years and eight months) by the same culprit ( 17 years two months) against Troyes.

The sale of Anthony Martial to Manchester United had opened a door for Mbappé which he has gone through running, especially this season. 12 goals in all competitions so far is a decent return, but it’s  the options that he offers to his coach Leonardo Jardim. He can play on the wings, centrally or partner with another striker. His versatility and style has earned him the tag of “new Thierry Henry” though that may be premature considering his predecessors illustrious career.

The young man needs to develop further before talks of going abroad to play at a Real Madrid are evoked. He hasn’t really experienced a major setback in his career yet e.g dip in form, long-term injury or abrupt change of coach and tactics. These are all issues Thierry Henry has encountered and surpassed. Then there is the small matter of Henry playing for the national team and winning the World Cup and Euros.

Though, selection for the senior national team feels like a when rather than an if, looking at the starring role he played at last years U19 Euro triumph with five goals. His father Wilfried who also works as his agent has proven that he can also make sensible decisions for his son by choosing Monaco instead of Real Madrid, even though the Spanish giants and in particular, club ambassador at the time Zinedine Zidane, pulled all the tricks to recruit him.

Whatever direction the Mbappé story takes, like Tony Montana, he is at a point where the world is his, even Nike have endorsed him. It’s now up to the lad to keep that success permanent.