The news that Erik Lamela will miss the rest of the season through a hip injury (the same one that has kept him on the sidelines since October) has been greeted with understandable disappointment from the Tottenham fanbase.
Although his first couple of seasons at White Hart Lane – much of which he spent awkwardly trying to fill the gaping Gareth Bale-shaped hole in the side – were relatively low-key, the Argentine blossomed into one of the club’s most influential performers last term.
It was a combination of Mauricio Pochettino’s continued faith in his fellow countryman, and a better understanding of the demands of the English game, that helped Lamela come into his own – almost (but if we’re totally honest, not quite) replicating the form that saw him become one of the most sought after young attackers during his time at Roma.
Jaw-dropping rabona goals take centre-stage in his highlight reels, but the winger is much more than a one-trick pony. His exquisite dribbling – both over long, reaching distances down the flank and in tight corridors inside the opposing penalty box – is almost unrivalled in the Premier League. Granted, the end product is lacking – but he proved in Italy he knows where the net is.
In football, though, timing is everything – and Lamela has picked a bad time to go down. Firstly, he’s just turned 25, a key age in any player’s career and particularly for one who essentially missed a portion of his early 20s while he was enduring a tough acclimation period in England. Where some are able to seamlessly slip back into the swing of things seemingly without any effort, the Argentine is a confidence player who takes a while to get into his stride.
While Lamela is on the treatment table, his team are busy finding new ways to play on the pitch. Son Heung-Min – who, like Lamela, found things tough in the early goings – has essentially swooped in to take his teammate’s place in the side. Although the Korean doesn’t have Lamela’s star dust, he’s a more consistent goal threat, capable of filling Harry Kane’s shoes when the club’s talisman is struck by injury.
With Champions League ambitions in their sights, Spurs are looking to become a more solid team, particularly after indiscipline cost them dear in the title run-in last season. That’s why Eric Dier was replaced at the base of midfield by the more steady presence of Victor Wanyama, and Pochettino is likely to make similar alterations further up the pitch, where he favours a high-pressing game.
That means surrounding Christian Eriksen – a supremely gifted talent but not exactly blessed with physical attributes – with players who can put in a shift. Son, Alli and Kane tick the boxes, but Lamela, who it’s fair to say is a little lightweight (although by no means lazy)… not so much.
I have to have an operation. I tried everything to recover but unfortunately my hip is still not 100% ..1/6
— Erik Manuel Lamela (@ErikLamela) March 29, 2017
One final point that bears mentioning (and this won’t please Spurs fans) is that Pochettino, for all his public commitment to his youthful side, probably won’t be around for more than a couple of seasons before he’s snapped up by one of Europe’s mega clubs. If he wants to taste success in North London before he departs, he needs players for the here and now – and Lamela, with long-term fitness issues, could find himself out of his manager’s plans.
Lamela could find himself confined to a mere footnote in the Lilywhite’s history books. Much like these former Tottenham players you won’t believe are still playing!