Thirty-three million pound transfer-fees are not justified during pre-season friendlies in Canada, but if Erik Lamela is to have a successful career at Tottenham he might look back on last night’s game with Toronto as a trend-altering moment.
The narrative surrounding the Argentine during his time in England thus far has been misleading; Lamela did not have a bad season or a disappointing one, rather in 2013/14 he didn’t have a season at all. Three Premier League starts, a whole host of personal adjustment problems, and a lingering-yet-unspecified back issue was never a fair basis upon which to judge him.
Last season wasn’t a failure, it was just an aborted beginning.
The principal difference between Lamela now and Lamela a year ago is his condition. He looks fitter, more muscular and far better prepared for English football life. Whilst pre-season can sometimes be a false reality, his forty-five minutes at BMO Field last night were significant because of the speed at which he did everything. There was a quickness to his football that Spurs haven’t seen before, and his eagerness to both carry the ball decisively and press the opposition relentlessly was, with no exaggeration, heart-warming.
His body shape has changed that dramatically and he still looks like quite a delicate athlete, but he just looks more prepared and has very obviously spent his Summer - back in Argentina and with Tottenham - getting himself into the best possible shape. All that talk of being determined to prove himself and wanting to silence his doubters wasn’t just rhetoric, because if his conditioning is anything to go by it’s obvious that Lamela is genuinely intent on slapping the words out of his critics’ mouths.
And in Mauricio Pochettino, he has a manager who might just help to do that.
Under Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs were a very methodical side. Their football was sometimes rather chess-like and that didn’t always benefit the more attacking, creative players. Pochettino’s system is still being learned by the squad and two games is too small a sample size to make judgements upon, but the early signs are that attacking football will once again by Tottenham’s calling-card. Pre-season or not, the fluid football played between Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen and, to a degree, Aaron Lennon, was a joy to behold both in its entertainment and its complexity. Players rotated in and out positions, carried the ball imaginatively, and created clever passing angles and options for each other. It was refreshing. The goals were a nice touch, but they were secondary to the overall performance of that attacking unit in the first-half.
Lamela’s role in that structure - getting on the ball as much as possible, drifting from outside-to-in and beyond - was very interesting, because it was stylistically similar to how he used to play for Roma under Zdenek Zeman. Rather than receiving the ball at a slow pace and being faced with five or six defenders in front of him, Pochettino seems to be intent on working the player into more broken-field situations and on inviting him to ad-lib and to express himself - and Lamela, probably for the first time since moving to England, actually seemed to enjoy playing again.
This an embryonic situation and there’s really no way of knowing whether this will mean anything within the context of the actual season, but there was enough last night to warrant positivity and to believe that all the memes and the Twitter accounts that have mocked Lamela and his price-tag over the past year are at risk of getting their comeuppance.