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Thomas Lemar & Man Utd: Why Ole approved that meeting last week

COMMENT: Little impact. Even less form. And millions wiped from his valuation. Yet, Manchester United took a meeting with the agents of Thomas Lemar last week...

That's not to say the Atletico Madrid winger wouldn't have doubts, himself. He may be struggling under Diego Simeone, but Lemar knows he could be giving up regular Champions League football by jumping ship and heading to England.

But what's brought them together is the manager - and what he's achieved with his United players this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows there's a player inside Atletico's No11 shirt. And those above him know the Norwegian would be capable of finding that player again. Just as he's done this season with Fred, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial... you can run through the entire United squad. Solskjaer's imprint is now all over it. He has shown he can rebuild a player's confidence. Revive his form. And improve a degenerating asset.

So if Solskjaer believes he can get Lemar back to the form of his Monaco days, then it only makes sense for United's top brass to take that meeting with Lemar's representatives and test the ground.

At this summit, United were informed of Lemar's intentions: he wants to leave. The France international had resisted interest in January - from Bayern Munich, no less. But after two more months of football under Simeone, it's become clear that he needs to get out. The system of the Argentine doesn't suit Lemar, his agents told United officials, and it's been relayed to the player that after ample opportunities, his coach is now looking elsewhere.

But again, that's not to say Simeone doesn't rate Lemar. He, like Solskjaer, knows the potential of his No11. But it's been made clear, Lemar has been given more chances than anyother player in a similar situation - and unfortunately has been unable to make the most of it.

Even in public, Simeone has explained his stand: "He has played much more than he has not. I have always been excited by his qualities. But he has not been able to respond in relation to our expectations."

There's clearly a frustration with the situation, but Simeone won't wait forever: "Facts speak for themselves better than words. Lemar is an important player who cannot develop all the football he owns - but who has characteristics that others do not have."

Indeed, for Simeone, Lemar is the most talented midfielder he has on the books. Solskjaer is looking at the Frenchman as primarily a left-sided winger, but the Atletico coach believes Lemar - at his best - could play centrally, even in a deeper role.

"In my opinion, Lemar is the one we have who understands how best to play in midfield. He has the best positional sense, can offer support to the attack and also offers balance to those around him," said the Argentine at the turn of the year.

So just what has happened since his €70m move from Monaco? Many say the burden of being Atletico's richest signing has weighed heavily on Lemar's shoulders. And that could be a factor. But with Joao Felix's arrival to the tune of €120m last summer, such concerns should long have disappeared.

Instead, for those closer to the player, the biggest influence on Lemar's decline has been the departures of the two players he was closest to inside the locker room last season - Antoine Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez. All three were part of France's World Cup triumph two years ago - and spent last season together at Atleti. But with Griezmann leaving for Barcelona last summer and Lucas for Bayern Munich, Lemar has found himself the only Frenchman left. And with that, a sense of growing isolation.

So there's reasons for Lemar's struggles. Just as there were reasons for Fred's problems before Solskjaer grabbed a hold of him. Ditto Martial. Shaw. Examples Lemar's minders have taken note of and why they've been so eager to speak with United about a summer change.

Getting down to numbers, it's a deal that can be done easily and quickly. Lemar's contract - with still three years to run - carries a €50m buyout clause and it's likely Atletico will insist United meet that fee. Enrique Cerezo, Atletico's president, will be eager to sell - even at a loss - but will demand the clause be met as 30 per cent of Lemar's fee will go back to Monaco.

A project player for €50m? That's some gamble. But Solskjaer now has a track record to point to - and it's something his higher ups are more comfortable with.

If the manager believes there's something there to work with, of course United are taking that meeting last week...

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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