Mauricio Pochettino believes Erik Lamela is finally showing his “real quality” at the beginning of what the Tottenham head coach admits is a crucial season for the winger.
Signed amid much fanfare for a club-record B#30million fee, expectations were understandably high when the 23-year-old swapped Roma for White Hart Lane.
However, Lamela flattered to deceive in his first two seasons in north London and it had seemed that Spurs might be tempted to cut their losses over the summer.
The Argentina international stayed put, though, and has belatedly started to impress on a consistent basis.
A man-of-the-match display in the win against Manchester City was followed by scoring in Thursday’s 1-1 Europa League draw in Monaco, putting a smile on the face of Pochettino.
“You know he has the potential, but the last two seasons were difficult for him,” the Argentinian said ahead of Sunday’s trip to Swansea.
“It is good for him and good for us that he is starting to show his real talent and his real quality.
“Always you need time and in football sometimes it is difficult to find the time to give the player, because always we expect quick and positive results from the player.
“We know this season is very important for him because it is true – after two seasons he needs to show his real quality.
“Right now in his mind he is ready to deliver and I think that we can only help him to give an opportunity to show.”
Pochettino has been impressed by his compatriot, who took longer than most to get used to life in the Barclays Premier League.
However, Lamela is in good company when it comes to teething problems in a new country, with his manager pointing to the struggles endured by one of the greats of the modern game.
“Zinedine Zidane arrived at (Real) Madrid in his first season and the supporters blamed him,” Pochettino said. “He found it difficult and he was Zidane.
“Lamela is still young, 22 or 23, and sometimes you need to create a good dynamic in the team and around the training ground to help some players.
“He has come from Italy, he is Argentinian, he has no good English and it is difficult to settle in a different culture and a different team with a different style of football.
“Not many players who come from Italy have quick success in England. It is very difficult.
“Italy is very difficult. Spain and France are more similar to English football, so players who come from France, for instance, settle more quickly.”
Moving within a country is obviously easier still, but the ease with which Dele Alli has adapted to life in the top-flight has been remarkable.
The 19-year-old has shone for Spurs this term and been rewarded with a first England call-up, just five months after the midfielder was playing in League One.
“We need to look after him and use our experience,” Pochettino said. “It is an important thing that the England call up does not change his life.
“He is the same player, he must keep his feet on the ground.
“This is our real job, together with the national team and Roy Hodgson and his staff.
“It is very important for him to play on the national team, he will need to work a lot and keep the similar behaviour he has shown this time.
“The timing is now and we need to look after him because that is the decision of the national team and we need to back him.”
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