RISING STAR: THOMAS LEMAR
Thomas Lemar's arrival in Monaco last summer made few headlines, but the 20-year-old has quickly emerged as one of club's leading players - and the skillful playmaker is already popular in the dressing room.
"He's a player I like a lot, he has really improved and he has become an important player for us," AS Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS, with veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho also attesting to Lemar's potential. "He's a good guy, and we've all got high hopes for him."
The tiny left footer may not be much to look at, but once he has a ball at his feet he is hard to stop. It's hardly surprising Lemar is a crowd favourite.
"His dribbling and his pace unsettle defenders," said one Monaco fan. "And now he's scoring goals as well as setting them up."
Lemar's versatility means he has already played 18 league games this year despite an injury lay-off.
"He can play in any position apart from centre-forward," said former Monaco defender Eric Di Meco. "He's good on the flank or behind the attacker, and he's a strong runner."
Monaco's equal-top scorer with five league goals - including three free kicks - the player from Guadeloupe continues to catch the eye.
Last weekend Thomas Lemar was back at his first club Caen. An opportunity to revisit a stadium he lit up as a teenager, and to meet some familiar old faces. It was also a chance to show his former team just how much he has progressed, and the coup de grace arrived in the 56th minute when he beat his old sparring partner Rémy Vercoutre from 25 yards.
"His left foot is amazing. It's like a hand - he puts the ball where he wants," said former team-mate Alaeddine Yahia, with Caen defender Dennis Appiah echoing the sentiment. "Our goalkeeper Rémy is used to Thomas' free kicks and he anticipates a bit. Usually he curls it over the wall. He hardly ever shoots across the goal like that. It shows that he's improving - he put it right in the top corner."
Lemar, who is under contract with Monaco until 2020, was playing second-division football just two years ago. But despite his dramatic rise he remains grounded.
"I know my strengths, but I didn't expect to explode on to the scene like this," confessed the man of the moment. "I wanted to have some game time and I'm getting that now. It's up to me to try to keep my performances up."
Lemar is yet to enjoy a full, injury-free season in the top division and it's clear he still has to work on the physical side of his game.
"Like all talented players, Thomas needs to learn that talent isn't enough on its own," said SM Caen Sporting Director Xavier Gravelaine. "When he bulks up a bit, when he can play 90 minutes for 38 games in a season, then we'll be talking about Thomas Lemar playing for France. He'll be judged over a longer period, and if he manages to find consistency he'll be very good indeed."
Since arriving on France's mainland in 2010, the young Guadeloupean has made giant strides. From Ligue 2 to Ligue 1 to the France U21s: it seems the only way is up for Monaco's gem.
"Let's not forget he's playing for a big club already in Monaco, but I think he'll go a long way," said Yahia, with Appiah equally optimistic. "He can be as good as he wants. He just needs to be consistent, to keep on scoring and setting up goals, to keep moving in the right direction."
Gravelaine doesn't imagine that the gifted youngsters' upward trajectory will stop any time soon.
"I don't think he'll stay at Monaco a long time. I can see him playing for a very big club," he offered. "Once he's playing 38 games a year for Monaco, then it'll be time for him to go."
A €4m signing just nine months ago, Monaco could be set to do some good business with Lemar. Europe's biggest clubs are already hovering.