Giovani Lo Celso had a bit of a rough introduction to live at Tottenham Hotspur. Signed late in the summer transfer window on loan with a purchase option from Real Betis, the Argentine playmaker struggled to integrate in the team under then-manager Mauricio Pochettino, and later had an injury setback sustained while on international duty that kept him out of the team for weeks.
Then, Pochettino got sacked and Jose Mourinho came in. The early indications were that Mourinho may not have favored Lo Celso at all, as he wasn’t selected in Jose’s early matchday squads. There were murmurs that Tottenham may even decline the purchase option on Lo Celso and have him return to Betis at the end of the season, assuming Spurs finished out of the European qualification spots.
Those days are long gone. Mourinho gave Lo Celso a chance in the new year and has responded with increasingly important performances, and has quickly become one of the first names on the team sheet. Spurs exercised an option to sign him permanently for £27m in January, and Mourinho has been practically singing his name in his press conferences.
That continued today. In his comments to the media ahead of Sunday’s Premier League match against Aston Villa, Mourinho was again full of praise for Lo Celso, saying he was “So, so happy” with his play.
“First of all [Gio] showed an incredible personality because clearly, and I am not going to deny it because it is easy to understand it, when he arrived I didn’t give him a big opportunity to play two or three matches in a row. He had to be strong mentally to cope with that. When a new manager comes to the club and doesn’t give you immediately chances I think maybe he feels, ‘Wow, he is not in love with me, he is not as in love with me as other players’.
“Other players I give immediately starts and big matches to play, like I did with Danny Rose. With Gio, I didn’t so he had to be mentally strong to cope with that. Then with his work, with his quality, with his personality, I think now he can play everywhere. Everywhere. He can play number 10, number 8, double midfield player with Winks. He can play on the right side, on the left. He can play everywhere. I am so, so happy with him. That is it. I like him very, very much.”
Gio was coming off of a minor injury sustained in training that kept him out of the FA Cup replay against Southampton last week, but Mourinho declared him fit and ready to play, which suggests he’ll be in the starting lineup not only on Sunday, but also in the mid-week Champions League match against RB Leipzig. Lo Celso’s positional flexibility means that while he has been starting in the pivot alongside Harry Winks lately, he could swap positions with, say, Dele and play higher up the pitch, or operate in a free role as tactics dictate.
We’re a long way from the days when we worried that one of our record signings might not fit into the plans of our new manager. There’s no reason to be concerned now. Giovani Lo Celso is playing well, is enjoying the ministrations from his manager, and looks to be one of the young players Mourinho will build his team around in the seasons to come.