Erik Lamela. Out of all the big-money moves made by Tottenham last summer, he was the one that caused the most excitement. He has also perhaps caused the most exasperation to the Lilywhite faithful this season, myself included. After all, it had really looked like we had signed a world-class talent, someone to replace (and – whisper it – maybe exceed) Gareth Bale, one who looked a steal at £25 million plus some add-on clauses. However, it was not to be. A combination of factors, from homesickness, to a failure to acclimatise to the playing style of the Premier League, to a chronic and (suspiciously ambiguous) back injury, led to limited game time for the young Argentine. It is fair to say that despite some flashes of genius, the only time he put in a performance that couldn’t be described as ‘mediocre’ was against the Moldovan champions in the Europa League, which is not particularly encouraging. Yet, news has arisen this past week that we have rebuffed interest in him from several Italian clubs, and he looks set to stay for next season at least.
It is obvious that he is a very good player. His family rejected a deal for him to go to Barcelona when he was seven, one not unlike the deal they signed Lionel Messi with. He has been the darling of the Argentinian press as well, first attracting their attention when he scored 120 goals in one season for his youth team at twelve. Search him up on YouTube and there are countless highlight reels of his time at both River Plate and Roma, the type of videos that really got Spurs fans hyped about his arrival (it is worth noting, however, that such videos are not necessarily a reliable judge of ability; after all, watch one of Roman Pavlyuchenko and he looks as good as Ibrahimovic). The stats back him up as well; in his final season at Roma, he had a better dribble success rate than the likes of Luis Suarez and Marco Reus (48% completion compared to 33% and 38% respectively). He also managed to get 58% of his shots on target, leading him to get a return of one goal every three games, which is very good for a winger. Opposing teams were forced to double up on him, creating space for others to operate in. In the right hands, he is definitely an attacking weapon capable of causing all sorts of problems.
So, how does newly-appointed Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino get the best out of his countryman? One thing is for certain: Lamela needs to get used to the physical nature of English football if he is to blossom into the player we all know he can be. The fact that he has been left out of Argentina’s World Cup squad is perhaps a blessing in disguise, as he has decided to spend the summer training with his old team River Plate in a bid to improve his fitness, which can only be a good thing. A constant string of starting matches is also a necessity; he was brought off the bench a lot last season, and although his form did not necessarily merit a place in the starting XI each week, it is vital that he plays in order to improve his game. He would definitely fit into the right wing of Pochettino’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, should he choose to employ it, and the possession football he is renowned for playing should suit Lamela. There are question marks over Lamela’s attitude to his defensive duties, though. He was not known in Italy and Argentina for busting a gut in pressing and getting back, which would put extra pressure on his team mates in maintaining Pochettino’s high-pressing game. Their shared nationality should not be overlooked, either; having another Argentinian at the club will hopefully allow Lamela to settle in better.
All in all, the signs are encouraging for Lamela to recapture the brilliance of seasons gone and fully realise his potential to be a star at White Hart Lane, with persistence and good management.