Spurs and Pochettino reaping rewards of Lamela patience
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The club didn’t have to offer the Argentina international a new contract in the summer, but it has paid off handsomely
Since Erik Lamela joined Tottenham Hotspur in August 2013, it is likely more stories have been written about his potential departure than the number of man of the match awards he has scooped at Spurs.
This should not be seen as a slight against the Argentinian, he has produced plenty of excellent displays for the Lilywhites over the last five years, but on a lot of occasions it has seemed inevitable he would leave and return to Italy.
At A.S Roma, Lamela was not only a creator, but a goalscorer and flourished during his two campaigns at the Stadio Olimpico.
It resulted in a £30 million move to White Hart Lane and while the 26-year-old has at times been a crucial player for the club, injuries have prevented him playing as much as he would have liked.
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Under Mauricio Pochettino, Lamela has always been viewed as an important player though, and many forget how crucial he was for Tottenham during the 2015/16 term when they were the only club to challenge Leicester City for the title.
After two up-and-down seasons, this was the campaign the ex-River Plate youngster showed his worth as he netted 11 goals in 44 games including a memorable hat-trick in a 4-1 Europa League win over AS Monaco.
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Lamela also struck in crucial Premier League victories against Manchester City, AFC Bournemouth, Watford and Man United.
It was at this stage we were beginning to finally see Erik Lamela’s potential and in the 2016/17 season, he was in Pochettino’s starting XI more often than not until a hip injury was the start of a traumatic 13 months.
After seeming nothing serious initially, the attacker would eventually have to go under the knife on two occasions.
Understandably, Lamela feared he would not play again and yet slowly, but surely he got back to fitness and made his return on November 28 – 13 months and three days after his last outing in the League Cup at Liverpool on October 25 2016.
It took the Argentine a couple of minutes to make his mark as after coming on in the 77th minute, he assisted Harry Kane with a fine through ball with 79 on the clock.
The rest of the campaign would see Lamela managed delicately by Pochettino, but the trust of the manager in his winger was clear.
He handed the wide-man a surprise start away to Juventus in the Champions League and then at Chelsea and home to Man City in the league.
Already Lamela was starting to feel the confidence of his manager and the final day of the 2017/18 season, in hindsight, was a sign of what was to come.
He netted a brace in a thrilling 5-4 victory over Leicester at Wembley Stadium, which guaranteed Spurs a third-place finish.
Somewhat out of the blue, Lamela was handed a new four-year contract by the club in July and it was a big show of faith in the Argentina international.
Given his injury troubles, it was perhaps a slight risk, but clearly one Pochettino felt had to be done and now Tottenham are reaping the rewards.
After ending the past season strongly and shaking off an injury in August, Lamela began his hotstreak with a consolation against Liverpool and the belief he got from that goal has helped him string a fantastic run of form together.
Goals have followed against Brighton & Hove Albion, Watford, Barcelona and the latest occurred in a London derby with West Ham United on Saturday afternoon, which the Argentinian relished as he celebrated in front of the Hammers supporters.
The Buenos Aires-born footballer is connecting with the Spurs supporters more than ever now with his spat with Jack Wilshere last February still fresh in the memory.
Pochettino believes maturity is key to Lamela’s recent run, he said: “I think you know the form of a player can sometimes change and sometimes it’s difficult to explain.
“The most important thing is when you trust and you feel confidence and we believe in him, we trust in him.
“He’s a player that is more mature every time he’s here. I think this is his sixth season and I think he’s more mature and that is the key. He’s more relaxed and calm in front of the goal.
“Now he needs to be consistent and play his best and we need to manage him in the best way because we need to understand where he came from and it’s so important always to pay attention to that.”
Given the struggles Lamela had with his hip, it is a testament to his character that he has made a full recovery and is now arguably Tottenham’s most in-form attacker.
The fight shown by the Argentina ace to return is exactly what Spurs need right now given the challenges they face coming up against PSV, Man City and Inter Milan in addition to others.
“Yes, a lot of injuries in five-and-a-half years,” Pochettino said, when asked about how Lamela has come through a lot.
“The season before last was tough for him, but patience, belief and caring about your player is the most important thing.”
Pochettino certainly cares about his squad and he has always adored Lamela and the fantastic relationship between the pair seems to have reached a new high point now, but the exciting prospect is perhaps there is even more to come.