Arsenal vs. Tottenham Preview : Erik Lamela – Comeback Kid
You’ve come a long way, baby…
Back in April 2014, while still Spurs manager, Tim Sherwood was quizzed by a journalist about how Erik Lamela’s English was coming along, having arrived from the Eternal City the previous summer. Tim’s eyes lit up, his very essence jiggled with anticipation as he readied himself for perhaps his favourite duty of being a football manager. He was going to do some banter.
‘Que?’ he replied, with a school playground grin.
The implication, while not wishing to plunge too deep into the psyche of the now unemployed coach, was that Lamela was fighting a losing battle. Not just with the long-term thigh injury which had blighted his maiden campaign in North London or even with his command of the local vernacular; but with his suitability for the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
Andros Townsend’s form had acquired him fans in high places and epitomised Sherwood’s vision of a new look Spurs, free from the trappings of expensive, overpaid foreigners who couldn’t hope to understand the nuances of the English game.
The suggestion was that the young Argentine, injured or not, just didn’t fancy it. Townsend was the future, not Lamela.
It was a cheap shot from Sherwood. He may’ve vacuumed enough laughs from the room to sustain him for a few minutes, but it seemed an unnecessarily barbed comment.
This, don’t forget, was a young man, barely 21, in his first season in English football. In a new country, adapting to an entirely unfamiliar culture. Imagine a fresh-faced Tim Sherwood starting a new life in Buenos Aires, nearly 7,000 miles from home, surrounded by people who didn’t understand him and, in turn, were incomprehensible to him. If a man from Borehamwood tells a joke, but no-one is around to translate it, does it still harvest a laugh? One of life’s existential conundrums.
For all of Erik Lamela’s woes in the early part of his Tottenham career, one thing you could never accuse him of, was showing a lack of effort. He was quite atypical in that respect, from what you might expect from a South American finding life difficult in the Premier League. He might’ve registered a whole catalogue of suspect performances and often looked at odds with his surrounding as the action whizzed by him. But even as he made those poor in-game decisions, rushing pointlessly into dead-ends without looking up or giving away free-kicks in dangerous positions, you could always be sure he was doing his damnedest to make something happen.
It could be said that he often tried too hard, to the detriment of his craft. Like he was straining with every fibre not to be that archetypal sulky foreigner who couldn’t be bothered while his luck was down.
At the Liberty Stadium last year, against Swansea, he was mighty fortunate to remain on the pitch as he spent a good portion of the afternoon hurling into to agricultural-grade tackles, trying to wrestle back possession. Possession, which, it has to be said, he had invariably lost. This was a common feature of the bad old days of Lamela’s early Spurs career. Despite the erratic nature of his performances, however, he always exuded the attitude of someone who was determined to make things right.
Now, finally, it looks as if the hard work is being rewarded. Time waits for no man in modern football, but in this case it’s hardly a surprise that Lamela looks far more settled in this, his third season in England. Many would point to his coach and fellow countryman, Mauricio Pochettino, as the catalyst behind the Argentine’s renaissance, as well as the support from former Spurs player, Ossie Ardiles, who arrived from Huracán, Buenos Aires in the late-70s; but much has to go down to Lamela himself, for his dogged mind-set.
’Mentally, it’s difficult and you have to be strong’, he told the Evening Standard in today’s edition.
Monday night was a fine example of how far he’s come. Instead of causing panic within the ranks, as was often his effect, he was the calming influence as Spurs tried to weather Villa’s late comeback. Composed on the ball, picking intelligent passes to retain possession in advanced areas while the home side tried to reshape and refocus. He then provided the most cool-headed of assists for Harry Kane to make sure of the points in the game’s final throes. His third of the season.
Strangely enough, it’s now Andros Townsend who appears to be the man on the fringes, struggling to force his way into the team. Only, judging by his bust-up with Spurs’ fitness coach in the post-game warm-down, it looks like the young Englishman isn’t dealing too well with being on the peripheries. So much for the sulky foreigner.