Nearly a year ago to the day I was sat on a train heading from Vienna to Budapest, with cautious optimism for the season ahead. Gareth Bale’s inevitably departure hadn’t quite come to fruition while the long sought after striker, Roberto Soldado, had joined off the back of his 24 league goals for Valencia. The confederations cup Bronze Ball winner, Paulinho, had also joined along with solid squad builders, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue. Things were looking up, then I read we were about to sign Roma’s 21-year-old star Erik Lamela, ‘The New Bale’.
I sat and read everything I could about him, sharing my increasing excitement with a fellow traveller and Spurs fan, leading to the two of us watching countless YouTube videos where the former River Plate man cut inside from the right wing and curled a shot into the far left side of the goal, reminiscent of the man who was about to leave us for greater heights. We agreed this was the year we could challenge for the title.
Fast forward to May and our new golden boy had played just 326 minutes in the Premier League, failed to find the net and scored only once in all competitions against Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol. With a back injury in December ending his debut season, a season that saw the Lilywhites finish sixth, their worst for five years, Lamela was seen as lightweight and unable to cope with the pace and physicality of the Premier League. However, coming into a disjointed team, in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, with two very different managers who failed in two very different ways, he clearly still has the potential that saw him score 15 goals in 33 games for Roma the previous year.
Tottenham now have a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who comes to White Hart Lane with a reputation of quick, attacking football, a high pressing line and bringing youngsters through. Inspired by Marcelo Bielsa, his philosophy should please those back at the Lane who crave a return to the ‘glory’ days of the push and run football like under Arthur Rowe. That reputation, mixed with him being a compatriot of young Lamela, has brought a renewed optimism for the season ahead for the former Roma man and the team in general.
The optimism has only increased throughout pre-season as Lamela has been deployed in the centre of a fluid attacking three, alongside Aaron Lennon and last season’s star man Christian Eriksen. In five games this pre-season, Lamela has received two man-of-the-match performances and notched three times including a first half brace against Toronto. Spurs fans have got excited by the link between the front three while Soldado has looked smooth, quick and intelligent.
However, questions have again been raised by the more pessimistic or maybe realistic fans since the last friendly against Schalke. With Emmanuel Adebayor back up front, Lamela looked peripheral and never made any sort of impact in the 45 minutes he was on the pitch, including a moment where he was easily bumped off the ball.
Judging by the general reaction on Twitter, most fans were disappointed by his televised performance but still totally believed that this will be the season that the league will see the Lamela that made Daniel Levy and Franco Baldini splash out nearly £30million to secure his signature. He did seem a peripheral figure at the Lane last season, especially under Sherwood, but seems a much happier figure now, often on social media having a good time with the likes of Lewis Holtby, Soldado and Eriksen.
Pochettino’s arrival is the main reason for the positive mood around North London at the moment and some of his statements only add to it more. “The most important thing is to create a good shape for our players to be comfortable and to show their real qualities.” The Argentinian manager has a reputation of getting the best out of his players, enhancing dramatically the careers of the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez.
If he can do the same at White Hart Lane with the likes of Eriksen, Andros Townsend and, of course, Lamela, the opinion of the record signing will definitely change. He can become the star man for a Tottenham side who can regain their reputation for playing attacking, fast-paced and attractive football, challenging those with bigger budgets to the very end of the season.
Expectations are low at the Lane compared with previous seasons, sixth is expected and all that is required is to have gained some respect again, to play attractive football and close that gap to the ‘top five’ so a challenge for the top four can be sustained until May.
Can Erik Lamela live up to his immense reputation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @TBRFootball.