Mario Lemina: Wolves’ Gabonese Midfield Enforcer

Wolverhampton Wanders remain one of the English Premier League sides that have continued to exceed expectations this season. From barely escaping relegation last season to sitting 11th in the table with 7 matches to go — 17 points above the drop — there’s no gainsaying that Gary O’Neil has done an incredible job at the helm.


By this time last season, Wolves sat in 14th position, just three points above the drop and there was a real possibility and fear of getting relegated around the Molineux but there has been a turnaround in fortunes ever since O’Neil took over in the summer and replaced Julen Lopetegui.


One player who has been pivotal to the form of the West Midlanders this season is 30-year-old Gabonese midfielder, Mario Lemina. Mario Lemina joined Wolves from Ligue 1 club Nice in January 2023 for an undisclosed fee on a two-and-a-half-year deal and has since become a very influential player at the Molineux.



He played in all but one league game in the second half of the 2022/23 season, starting 16 games and making just two substitute appearances for the West Midlands side thereby immediately establishing himself as a key player for Wolves. At the age of 30, there’s no denying Lemina’s level of experience having previously played for top teams like Lorient, Olympique de Marseille, Juventus, Southampton, Galatasaray and Fulham in a career that has lasted for over a decade across four different top flights with his current spell at Wolves being the third time Lemina has made the switch from another league to the Premier League.


Little wonder he has fitted seamlessly into the team at Wolves, safe to say he needed no introduction. Having lost a very influential figure in the middle of the park like Ruben Neves, many expected Wolves to miss the Portuguese or sweat in finding a worthy replacement but Mario Lemina has come in and made Neves’ absence to be felt minimally. Lemina had played for Southampton for two seasons between 2017 to 2019 which was followed by two consecutive loan spells at Galatasaray and Fulham before returning to France in 2021 to join Nice where he spent two seasons


Renowned for his strength and technical abilities, Lemina has the materials of a modern-day defensive midfielder. His ability to outmuscle opponents, pass and dribble out of tight situations makes him a force to reckon with in the middle of the park. “He is a different type of player to the majority of footballers. He knows how to attack and how to defend. He offers a lot of solutions to the coach and to his team.”


Marcelo Bielsa once said of Lemina during the period he coached the Gabonese at Marseille in 2014/15. Bielsa’s comments no doubt aptly captures and defines Lemina as a player and looking back at those comments, it’s no surprise how he’s been useful for Wolves at both ends of the pitch this season, defending transitions and also starting up transitions alongside being a very big presence in both boxes and he’s no doubt utilised his overall skill-set in dominating and holding his own against even the very best teams in the premier league this season.



Lemina’s four Premier League goals this season underlies how much of a threat he’s been from set-pieces this season. With three headed goals in the Premier League this season, only five players with four headed goals have scored more headers than Lemina this season.


Only Hee-Chan Hwang (10) and Matheus Cunha (9) have scored more goals for Wolves this season and his xG of 4.06 is only behind the attacking duo who have both got 6.37 and 8.19 respectively, making him one of Wolves’ most potent attacking threats and the fact that only those two players have missed more big chances than his three big chances missed further emphasizes his usefulness to Gary O’Neil’s attacking strategy.


Forming a good partnership with Joao Gomes in midfield, Lemina has performed brilliantly alongside the Portuguese in terms of tackles made this season. Mario Lemina has made 68 tackles this season, only bettered by Joao Gomes amongst Wolves players this season and ranked 9th in the Premier League.


In terms of tackles per game, Lemina also sits pretty high amongst his Wolves teammates with only Joao Gomes with 3.5 tackles per game ranking higher than the 30-year old’s 2.7 tackles per game. The former Southampton and Fulham midfielder tops the chart for Wolves in one aspect though, an aspect which emphasises his high-level game reading abilities as no Wolves player has made more interceptions per game than the Gabon international who has so far registered 1.4 tackles per game for his club this season.



It is very much established how much of an important player Mario Lemina has been for Wolves this season and despite losing his father in December 2023, the midfielder continues to impress for the West Midlands side and the entire Wolves squad sure did well to pay their tributes to Lemina’s father when they beat Everton 3-o shortly after his death on the 30th of December.


“We’ve all been smiling and enjoying the result in the dressing room, but when you think about Mario there is a sense of reality.” “He is going through a tough time. When we came in for the match, he was the first thing we spoke about. He is incredibly important to the group, both as a person and as a player. There is no way we would be anywhere near 28 points without him. He has our full support and I hope he and his family find some peace over the next few days,”Wolves boss Gary O’Neil said post-match.


Despite losing key players like Ruben Neves, Matheus Nunes and Nathan Collins, Wolverhampton Wanderers are headed towards a comfortable midtable finish in their first season under Gary O’Neill, and they will be banking on their ever-reliable and influential defensive midfielder Mario Lemina to continue his fine form for the remainder of the season as they look to either maintain their current position or a place higher up the log that could potentially push them into the conversation for Europe next season.


By: Moses Onyilo Adikwu / @Moe_Adikwu

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Andrew Kearns – CameraSport