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Erik Lamela’s resurgence is one of the best parts of Tottenham’s season

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In praise of Érik Lamela

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Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Lamela missed a sitter a couple days ago against Man City, but that one mistake (which Pep Guardiola agreed was the pitch’s fault) excluded, he’s been in fantastic form. Not only in front of goal, but also in new subtleties of his play that bolster Tottenham’s attack by adding grit, ball retention, and great off-the-ball movement to the advanced midfield. For reference, see the several times he successfully held the ball up right at the edge of the Man City box under pressure from multiple defenders yesterday.

The Guardian recently did a lovely profile of Coco, who’s only a year older than Harry Kane at 26. Lamela is in good form and good spirits (and he’s good-looking!), and according to him, it may be his positive outlook that is responsible for his form:

“In terms of differences between then and now, I think the big difference is that I’m enjoying things much more than I used to,” Lamela says. “After all the time I spent off the pitch, wishing that I could play again, now I enjoy everything. I enjoy every single training session and, perhaps, I enjoy things more because I’m in a different frame of mind. Perhaps, in the past, I was just going too fast and passing things by.” (David Hyntner, The Guardian)

This why I love Érik Lamela so much. Despite having an incredibly difficult start at Spurs, he has worked hard, developed his game, and reimagined himself as a player. Where he was once a dancer, he’s now a fighter, though just as lithe as ever. What Lamela’s saying in that quote is rooted in Danny Blanchflower’s famous reflection on glory: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” It seems that before his injury kept him from football, Lamela was preoccupied with winning, furthering his career, and making a name for himself—“going too fast,” in his words. Now that he has rediscovered the joy and privilege of playing football, the proverbial glory that Blanchflower speaks of, the material success will come. Lamela is in joyous form to watch.

Coco complicates the stereotype of the contemporary footballer. I recall an old coworker who used to lecture me about how modern footballers are big, spoiled babies, and with many of his examples, I had to agree. Football news is full of players who were praised as youngsters until their egos outweighed their skills, who lack discipline and do not know how to respond to setbacks. To some extent, this has always been true, but with the salaries that today’s players are on, their mistakes seem even less forgivable, their poor sportsmanship even more egotistical.

But now, coworker, I raise you one: Érik Lamela. Coco is not the antidote to the modern footballer, but the perfect merging of past and present: he’s temperamental, but also tenacious. Grandiose, but also gritty. Just think of Lamela’s early Tottenham career: he was in a perfect position to be rich, immature, and petulant. When he joined Spurs at 21, the expectations of him were high. Lamela was one of the most-hyped players we had signed in a while—a 2012 article called him the “next Messi”—and of the Magnificent Seven brought in following Gareth Bale’s departure, fans were most excited to see Lamela. By the end of his first Spurs season, though, things had not gone to plan. He didn’t play until late November, a bizarre decision by Andre Villas-Boas, and when he did, his performances were less than excellent. In The Telegraph’s 2013-14 season review, Matt Law called Érik Lamela Tottenham’s biggest disappointment.

At that time, it would have seemed easy to predict Lamela’s career path: with his big, young ego, having disappointed his believers and proven his doubters right, he’d be destined for embarrassed mediocrity. Instead, we have seen the opposite. Rather than turn a small failure into a spectacular flop, as many players have in today’s era, Lamela, perhaps inspired by Pochettino, has shown that a player can succeed despite having high expectations and a big ego. By being humble, working hard, and enjoying his football, Lamela has painted an encouraging portrait of the possibility to play the game for glory in the modern era.