It’s Time for Tottenham to Give Up on Érik Lamela

Jul 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela (11) passes the ball against Toronto FC at BMO Field. Tottenham defeated Toronto 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 23, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela (11) passes the ball against Toronto FC at BMO Field. Tottenham defeated Toronto 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

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Reports out of Turin yesterday suggested that Tottenham might not simply have rejected Juventus’ bid for Christian Eriksen. Instead, they might have redirected the Serie A champions to another player, one Spurs are anxious to take off their books.

RELATED: Should Tottenham Consider Offer for Eriksen?

Érik Lamela remains Tottenham’s most expensive transfer in its history. The then-21-year-old was bought from AS Roma in 2013 for a reported £25.8 million, possibly rising to £30 million with add-ons . At the time the transfer fee seemed justified. The Argentine had blossomed at Roma, scoring 19 goals and assisting 11 more over his two years as with the club. Tottenham, along with most everyone else in the sport, assumed Lamela was only getting started. He was the centerpiece of the transfer market binge that followed Gareth Bale’s departure from the club.

His Tottenham career began poorly however. Rumors began to swirl during his first season with the club that he was struggling to adapt to life in London. Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas seemed reluctant to start him, though if it was related to his form on the training pitch, his mental health or both remains unclear. In any case, he managed only 9 appearances with the club in 2013/14 before a back injury ended his season early.

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Lamela earned significantly more minutes in his sophomore season as fellow Argentine Mauricio Pochettino took over as manager. Over 25 starts and eight substitutions he scored twice and contributed seven assists. Improvement, yes, but it’s safe to say that that is no where near the production that Tottenham expected when they spent nearly a third of Bale’s transfer fee on him.

All of which makes the rumor that Tottenham would be willing to offload Lamela to Juventus sound supremely plausible. The club would take a loss with any sale for the winger, but there’s little use here in dwelling on sunk costs. Lamela in his current incarnation is a bench player at best, and if his woeful substitution appearance against Stoke City Saturday serves as any evidence, a poor one at that. He cannot be relied upon to have any meaningful impact late in games and, perhaps more importantly, takes up valuable real estate on the bench that more promising players like Alex Pritchard would otherwise own.

Lamela wouldn’t be the first transfer from Italy’s Serie A to find their careers grind to a halt once they arrive in the Premier League. Alberto Aquilani and Fabio Borini at Liverpool, Gastón Ramírez at Southampton and Steven Jovetić at Manchester City are just a handful of examples. While there certainly are plenty of success stories – Coutinho has been a revelation since his arrival from Inter Milan – the general trend seems to indicate that there is some fundamental difference between the two leagues that makes that transition especially difficult. Maybe it’s that Serie A tends to be a slower, more methodical game than the Premier League’s quicker, more physical one. Maybe the burden of expectation is simply more daunting in England.

Such examples make it a bit easier to understand Lamela’s difficulties at Tottenham. It’s not that the player has suddenly lost his knack for the game. It’s more likely that he’s simply out of his element, that the list of qualities that made him so promising at Roma are simply not ones that mean much in the Premier League. The numbers tell this story a bit more clearly. Despite his relatively weak production over his career in north London – overall he contributed almost half as many goals and assists per 90 minutes for Tottenham as he did for Roma – his underlying stats remain fairly strong. If we look at shots per game, key passes and other such offensive metrics from last season provided by WhoScored, Lamela isn’t too dissimilar than Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Yet if you were only to watch them play you would almost certainly considering Oxlade-Chamberlain the superior of the two. His awareness, his work-rate, his ability to contribute to multiple phases of play all seem to outshine Lamela’s. Hence Oxlade-Chamberlain can look forward to a future with Arsenal while Lamela cannot say the same about Tottenham.

Perhaps, then, Juventus’ possible interest is what’s best for Tottenham and Lamela.  He’ll be paired up with the best players in Italy at Juve, playing a game that more closely matches his skillset. At only 23, he still has plenty of time to reclaim the promise that surrounded him at Roma. Meanwhile Tottenham will have freed up space to either bring Pritchard closer to the starting XI or otherwise find a more suitable creative threat for the right wing.

Neither club nor player will look back fondly on Lamela’s time in England, but there’s still hope that both can recover.

Next: Tottenham Player Profile: Kevin Wimmer