Speaking exclusively to France Football, Gabonese international central midfielder Mario Lemina explained his decision to leave Premier League side Southampton.
Mario, you have not been named in Southampton’s squad for the 1st stage of pre-season. What is your current situation?
I am preparing myself physically at the training centre, with some other players like Charlie Austin and Jordy Clasie. I did not join the players on the tour in agreement with the manager. He wants to build his squad with players who want to stay at the club, so he put me to one side. Since last year, I made it clear: I want to leave and go elsewhere this summer. I was also very frustrated by my injury which went on for 3 months, so I would really like to discover something else.
Do you not want to try to force yourself back into the starting XI?
I am very optimistic for the club because he is truly a very good coach. We had a long discussion when he arrived. He was expecting a lot from me because I was one of the most influential players in the team… After that, I had this quite long injury, so I could not really work with him. When he arrived, he built a team that I did not belong to and which worked well at the end of the season, so I see no reason for him to change it.
And by the time that I adapt to what he is looking for… But it has nothing to do with the coach. I quite simply told myself that I would do 2 years at Southampton, and then go to another level. I had an agreement with the Sporting Director. The injury came in at the end of December, that held me back, it is a shame, but I don’t want to go any further with Southampton. I would prefer to leave on good teams, loyal to what was said.
You absolutely want to leave your club, but you have another 3 years contract and you come out of an up-and-down season, is that not a bit risky?
I am not scared, I made a decision and I take full responsibility for it. I decided to tell the club representatives that I wanted to leave, there is no turning back. There is a risk, of course, but I know that I am capable, I am at 100% and I want to prove that I can come back very quickly to my best level. Some clubs will be maybe more prudent, they already know me. Today I am completely back, I have worked a lot. I am ready to move on.
Is your priority to stay in the Premier League?
Certainly it is an exceptionally interesting league. The best thing for me would be to stay here, but I don’t close the door on any club, or any country. Today, after 4 months with injury, I am not looking at anyone in particular. I aspire to play in the very biggest clubs, now we will see what is offered to me. I made the decision to leave Juventus for Southampton in search of more playing time, and I got it. I made a good impression in England, I received good feedback at a certain point, so I hope that clubs won’t have a short memory.
Is playing in the Champions’ League an important criterion for you?
It is a bonus. If I get the opportunity to play in it this season, why not, but I am truly looking to find consistency again, to become an important player in a team again with big objectives. I need to play! That is genuinely my priority. I want to show the whole world what I am capable of.
In Ligue 1, clubs like Lyon, Marseille or Bordeaux are looking for signings of your calibre…
Coming back to France is interesting for me, yes! But staying in England or going back to Italy is too! For the moment, all the doors are open. Everything depends on the project offered to me, the talks with Southampton… There are lots of unknowns, I am waiting, even if I have already received several approaches. I really hope that things will be done quickly, so that I can be part of a team before the league season begins.