PARIS (AP) — Patrice Garande gets defensive when asked questions about Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar these days.
How, soccer observers ask him, could he possibly have left such a talented player on the team bench?
That was three years ago, when Lemar was playing for modest French club Caen.
Small in stature at 1.70 meters (5-foot-6) and rather frail, Lemar was overlooked by Garande, the coach. He preferred players with a stronger physique more suitable — he believed — to scrapping for survival points with Caen near the bottom end of the table.
Fast forward to last week, and the Stade de France rose to applaud Lemar’s man-of-the match performance as France routed the Netherlands 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier that took place on the last day of the transfer window.
Lemar’s first of two goals that night was a superbly-timed volley from the edge of the penalty area, struck so sweetly and with such velocity that it whizzed into the top corner like a bullet from a rifle.
On the same day Lemar got his first goals for Les Bleus, the red-and-whites of Monaco turned down offers of 100 million euros…