Is Tottenham’s Erik Lamela starting to look like a £30million player?
After all the build-up, Tottenham hardly had the best start to their league campaign on Saturday, falling behind after just five minutes.
Yet being slow out of the blocks is not necessarily terminal – just ask Usain Bolt, who gave his rivals a head start in his 100m Olympic defence on Sunday night before motoring past the field.
Unfortunately, Spurs could only draw level with Everton before the finish at Goodison Park, but they were pushing for victory.
And, while there was a sense of a missed opportunity, there were also positives – notably the performances of Erik Lamela and substitute Vincent Janssen, who were both denied a winner by Toffees goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
Those who watched the Lilywhites’ pre-season games will be unsurprised to see the pair starting the competitive campaign strongly, as they were probably the most impressive players in the warm-up games – particularly Lamela.
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The Argentine changed the game when he came on against Juventus in Melbourne, scoring a clinical goal, and he was unlucky to hit the woodwork in the following game against Atletico Madrid.
The 24-year-old went on to score from 20 yards and set up two more goals in the 6-1 rout against Inter Milan in Oslo – and it was he who grabbed the leveller against Everton at the weekend before drawing a fine fingertip save from Stekelenburg.
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The main problem has always been his £30million transfer fee, which made him Spurs’ most expensive ever player and, often, a figure of fun.
It is not unreasonable to suggest that a record signing should be the club’s most influential player and he is certainly not there yet – last season, Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane rightly picked up a Player of the Year award apiece from the club’s senior and junior supporters respectively.
Nonetheless, Lamela was the second top scorer behind Kane with 11 goals in all competitions, and he also contributed 10 assists.
He has grown in importance and is developing a useful ability to make things happen when his team are lacking a cutting edge.
His powerful flying header against Everton – which is not his natural strength – underlines his steady improvement under Mauricio Pochettino, and his work-rate, energy and team ethic are also exemplary.
Are we finally now getting to a stage where Lamela could justifiably be viewed as a £30m player, or is that point in sight, given the modern transfer market and the sums being spent by other Premier League clubs?
After all, Everton have just paid £25m for Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie, who recorded six goals and four assists last season – rather less than Lamela on both fronts.
If that is how Bolasie is valued, and West Ham recruit Andre Ayew is worth £20m, how should Lamela be rated? If Palace now moved for the Argentine and offered Spurs their £30m back, what would Tottenham fans advise chairman Daniel Levy to do?
In previous years that figure would probably have been accepted with glee. Now there would be pause for thought at the very least. In the modern market, how much would it cost to replace him with another attacking midfielder who can get into double figures for both goals and assists?
Lamela may have been a lot more costly than some of Spurs’ other recruits – notably Dele Alli and Eric Dier – and he may have taken a while to find his feet in north London.
But his steady improvement, combined with the inflation of transfer payments in England’s top flight, means his fee no longer looks exorbitant, and Spurs could justifiably argue they are now getting good value for the investment they made three years ago.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs