The forgotten men of the Premier League might not warrant too much of your pity as they ride the bench and treatment rooms of their respective clubs, earning money we can only dream of, but there’s more to a great under-appreciated star than their wages, and in our summer series Like a New Signing, we’re picking the players we believe can find the gear they failed to in the 2013/14 season, whatever the reason.
Tottenham Hotspur fans will nod and smile politely at the mention of £30million 22 year-old Argentinian winger Erik Lamela. The sale of their star wide-man Gareth Bale left a gaping hole in Andre Villas-Boas’ team and the hearts of Spurs fans everywhere, a statement was needed, a coup of fairly epic proportions, and snatching the hotly tipped Argentina international from Roma late into the transfer window represented just that. The most expensive player in the club’s history, Lamela broke the record set by Paulinho and then Roberto Soldado, all three coming in the same summer. Spurs fans had good reason to be excited as they ushered in a new era under a highly regarded young coach and with a team of newly acquired international stars.
In a season which saw indifferent form from the majority of their new signings, save for Christian Eriksen who looked more than capable whenever he was fit, Erik Lamela stood out as contributing the least of any player. Rumours of a loan return to Italy, followed by a hurried permanent exit in the summer, can’t have done much for his confidence, but for a player of whom so much was expected, his nine appearances in the 2013/14 campaign, coupled with a damning indictment from his then under-fire boss AVB, who said he was “producing half of what he can produce,” a statement which probably appeared generous in retrospect, we’re not going out on a limb by calling Lamela’s first season in the Premier League one of the biggest flops in the competition’s history.
At 22 though, Erik Lamela’s got his whole career in front of him. While whispers of a quick departure haven’t yet subsided, it would be a terrible shame for Premier League fans to never witness what the hotly tipped winger is truly capable of. New Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino reportedly had the word “Argentinian” circled and underlined at the top of Daniel Levy’s pile of application forms this summer and the Spurs chairman will be absolutely desperate to see the former Southampton boss draw a return of his investment from the former River Plate starlet. His physicality was a concern the second he jumped off the plane at Heathrow and following a series of knocks last season things don’t look much better for Lamela. To make a mark in the Premier League you have to match your guile, speed and intelligence with a decent level of strength and/or ruggedness, meaning he doesn’t need to pack on mass to survive, but he’ll need to toughen up where it counts if he’s going to be kicked, chopped, slapped and checked by the biggest in the business. His rugged centre-back coach played with all the snidey, tactical physicality, as you’d expect from an Argentinian international defender and maybe for that reason, above his nationality even, Pochettino is the right man to prepare him for a long season in England.
Tottenham have reportedly got their eye on French international equivalent Antoine Griezmann this summer, which could put paid to the entire Lamela experiment, but it would be a massive shame. The failure of Gervinho to set the Premier League alight told us a bit about the role of the blind dribbler in English football, but the Argentinian has more to his game than just running at players, the winger, who is known as Coco back home, is intelligent and technical and has long been expected to make the shift into a more central role and would offer Spurs something they badly lacked last season, a final ball. Christian Eriksen grabbed Tim Sherwood’s team by the scruff of the neck at the end of last season, but he can’t be expected to haul them back into the Champions League on his own. Tottenham Hotspur fans have a right to expect from Erik Lamela and we believe he could be worth the full £30million all over again.