This is the twelfth installment in a series of Tottenham Hotspur player profiles that I am creating. The articles are aimed at fans who are either new to Spurs or new to the game. You can find my other work in the fanposts section of the Cartilage Free Captain blog. Read, comment, compliment, ridicule, enjoy.
Disclaimer - Wheeler Dealer Radio's (WDR for those ITK) host and trusted author Skipjack is embarking on an entire series on the exploits of Erik Lamela titled "The Erik Lamela Experience". Insightful, funny, and honest, the anthology does a wonderful job of analyzing the conundrum that is Coco Lamela. Three parts have already been released, with a fourth one coming later today. Make sure to check those out before you spend time reading this.
Player: Erik Lamela
Position: Right Wing
Strengths: South American football is notorious for championing players with panache; attackers whose aim is to embarrass defenders, not simply beat them. "Maybe I will come back at him," thinks the jugador, "and after he regains his balance, I will put the pelota through his legs once more" This mindset is pervasive in South American football culture and illustrated perfectly by Uruguayan literary icon Eduardo Galeano, who once wrote, "Years have gone by and I've finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.'"
Galeano is not asking for a clinical finish or the triumph of three points, but for the showmanship that only special players possess. When Tottenham Hotspur bought Erik Lamela in the summer of 2013, he seemed like a player that would answer Galeano's cry. Erik Lamela is a flair player whose thought process prefers the beautiful over the pragmatic. Yet with fifteen goals in thirty-three appearances for A.S. Roma, the twenty-one year old produced in a big way for a big club.
Lamela's qualities begin and end with his imagination and left foot. He is the type of player who will back heel, flick, and dummy at will; he will even try a rabona! He will deliberately slow the game down, throwing five consecutive scissors at a panicky defender, inviting him to dive in, and then gracefully float past him towards goal. Lamela can also dream up a pass. While he isn't as direct of a playmaker as Christian Eriksen, Lamela sees channels that most don't, and attempts to play through balls more conservative players wouldn't dare. He also has a magnificent left leg. So many highlights from Roma or River Plate show him cutting in from the right wing and curling strikes into the bottom left corner of the net. At Spurs, in small portions, he has shown this ability and can be a dangerous threat from afar.
Lastly, the kid cares. He works his behind off when given the chance to play and never complains when his form is off or when he is not getting the minutes he thinks he deserves. Under Pochettino, Lamela has made great strides in improving his defensive awareness, output, and is truly a defensive boon for our pressing style when deployed in the attacking three of a 4-2-3-1.
Weaknesses: Save a two month stretch at the end of the 2014-15 season, Erik Lamela has been impotent for Tottenham Hotspur. The young Argentine's time at Spurs has been at best workmanlike, and at worst disastrous. From our first glimpses of him in the fall of 2013, it always seemed like he was a bit slow, the laggy element in a battle.net death-match.
This was even more pronounced when he was billed as Tottenham's "Bale replacement." Yes they were both tall, yes they both scored goals from the wing, and yes they both had a left foot, but journalists failed to shout a resounding "No!" when comparing Lamela to Bale's epic pace and athleticism. Yet even if we remove this unrealistic and impossible Bale comparison, Lamela is neither speedy nor athletic. He is, at best, average when juxtaposed against other professional footballers. He fails to breakaway from defenders when he gets a step, is too boyish to not to be pushed around, and goes to ground much too easily when hit.
Lamela also dawdles in his decision making. Even his most vociferous critics would admit that he has a creative mind for the game, but he is often too slow to physically carry out his chosen actions or too generous in his risk-reward analysis when making a pass or taking a shot. As noted in Skipjack's second piece on Lamela, he is eager to take space, go forward, and play menacing balls but, more often than not, these decisions fail miserably, and lead to dreadful counter attacking opportunities for the other team.
This all leads into the thing that is really tough to say, because I am really pulling for him, but the stage might be too big. There have been countless instances where fate has conjured him incredible chances, the opportunity to emblazon an indelible mark on his Spurs career, only to see him crushed by the burden of that moment. In another circumstance this could have all worked out, and there is an outside chance that it still might, but Lamela's most severe weakness is the weight of immense expectations he carries like a cross too heavy to bear.
History at Spurs: In a record-breaking transfer fee for Tottenham Hotspur, Erik Lamela joined Spurs on August 28, 2013. The deal saw the North London side send £30 million (£25.8 million up front, £30 million with rising incentives) to Serie A club Roma for the services of their promising young Argentine. When Spurs broke transfer records for Modrić, Paulinho, or Roberto Soladado, a video never accompanied their official announcement; when Spurs signed Erik Lamela they did. Expectations have always been astronomical for the River Plate product. Lamela's first season at White Hart Lane was tough. He struggled with learning a new language, a string of sub-par performances on the pitch, and ultimately a season ending back injury. Lamela was shut down for the year in December of the 2013-14 campaign, appearing in just seventeen games. Lamela's health and overall play improved in the 2014-15 season, where he featured in forty-six out of fifty-seven first team matches. He did not light the Premier League on fire, but had a memorable "rabona" goal in the Europa League, and was among Spurs' most industrious performers in the latter stages of 2014-15 season. Erik Lamela started against Leicester on August 22, 2015 and has featured in three of Tottenham's first four games of the 2015-16 campaign.
Role on Team: Erik Lamela has been primarily deployed as the right wing in an attacking three of a 4-2-3-1 for Tottenham Hotspur. Like so many wide players in the modern game, Lamela is positioned on the opposite side of their favored foot. The advantage in this setup lies in the fact that these attacking midfielders will cut inside towards goal, creating chances for long range efforts or killer through balls with their more natural leg. It also allows an ease of interchangeability with the other attackers in the frontline. Lamela's competition at the right wing spot comes from returning teammates Mousa Dembélé and Andros Townsend and new signings Clinton N'Jie and Heung-Min Son. Dembélé has been the preferred starter on the right for the first four games of the 2015-16 season. Lamela's other potential place in the team would come as backup to Christian Eriksen in the #10 or central playmaker position. Along with Eriksen, Lamela would battle for this spot with Ryan Mason and even Mousa Dembélé.
Prediction: It all looks bleak for Erik Lamela four games into the 2015-16 season. His performance in our home opener against Stoke was epically dismal and he did not impress in his first eleven appearance away at Leicester. It is shocking how swift his fall out of favor has been. Most felt like this was Lamela's last season to prove himself at the club. He had encouraging starts towards the end of last term and if given a regular run of games in the first eleven, many felt he would unlock the talent lurking inside.
The problems he is facing though seem formidable. Mousa Dembélé is a player Tottenham need on the pitch and one who has found a place in Lamela's right attacking midfield spot. Further, Son Heung-Min, Tottenham's big money summer signing, prefers a left wing role but is ambidextrous and can be deployed on either side of an attacking three. These are two very good players blocking Lamela's path to the first eleven. As such, Spurs came close to moving Lamela before the transfer window closed. Lamela's father openly commented on a possible loan to Inter Milan and Tottenham pulled out of a deal on August 31 to send him to Marseille (rumors state that it was Pochettino who blocked the transfer). Erik Lamela is still a talented player.
Though he hasn't fit in at Spurs, many feel that success is still in his future. So why can't that success be at Spurs? Football is strange and impossible to know. Supporters were slagging off Gareth Bale early in his career while players like Adel Taraabt and Ibrahim Afellay received chance after chance due to irregular moments of brilliance and a ton of perceived potential. While I doubt Lamela will become Gareth Bale, I can certainly see him finding form again. I just don't think it will be at Spurs. Nevertheless, he will still get his chances at Tottenham, as the club and Pochettino are too invested in him. From afar, it just seems there are too many negatives for him to truly break out in a lilywhite jersey.