One of the benefits anticipated when Mauricio Pochettino became the Spurs manager this summer was that he might be able to resuscitate the dormant career of his countryman Erik Lamela.
Pochettino has certainly given Lamela plenty of opportunities to impress. The player has regained fitness and has been available all season, which in itself represents some kind of progress. There have been flashes of brilliance – the rabona of course springs to mind – but ultimately something is still missing.
There is a sense that Lamela remains a luxury player. Someone who you can trust to play against the deadbeats that frequent the Europa League, or at home against the weaker sides in the Premier League. He’s also effective as a late super-sub, with the wide-man looking very dangerous on the break at the weekend as Everton chased an equaliser.
Yet against the very best sides – especially away from home – Lamela can be an accident waiting to happen. Defensively he has much to learn and has made individual errors that have led to goals against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City.
So it seemed a strange decision when Pochettino decided to start with Lamela against a Chelsea team who are far and away the best team in the league and certain to exploit any weaknesses. The defensive attributes of Nacer Chadli, who has proved this season that he is far more likely to weigh in with a goal than Lamela, seemed a more sensible selection.
When Chadli did get on the pitch it was at the expense of Aaron Lennon, despite Lamela having a poor game. The Argentine was eventually substituted with just over quarter of an hour left, for Roberto Soldado.
Lamela seemed to attract the bulk of the online criticism from Tottenham fans as the side lost 3-0 but he is far from a lost cause. He has looked better than he did in his disastrous debut season and the ways in which his game can develop are fairly plain to see.
‘Coco’ isn’t the first attacking player to struggle with the defensive aspect of the game. Indeed, it remains a flaw in Christian Eriksen’s skill-set, though the Dane showed signs of how he’s improving defensively against Everton.
There is no reason why Lamela can’t also develop this area of his game under Pochettino, who seems adept at improving young players. He would also greatly benefit from developing physically. Lamela is far too easily brushed off the ball and this is especially apparent when he plays in the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
Look at Gareth Bale. He arrived at Spurs as a lanky teen and left with the physique of a light-heavyweight boxer. That physical transformation has continued at Real Madrid and is what Lamela should be striving for.
He’s got time on his side. Still only 22-years old, Lamela is younger than Ryan Mason but having been bought to the club for a small fortune, he’s afforded far less patience. It’s natural to expect instant results when you pay big money, yet in this case it was never likely to be so easy.
Lamela was an inexperienced player with one good season behind him in Serie A – a league where his shortcomings were less apparent. It was always likely that it would take time for the player to adapt and come good.
He’s making good progress this season but it’s vital for both player and team that Pochettino picks him at the right times. There is nothing wrong with Lamela being a flat-track bully in the Europa League and a Premier League squad player at this stage of his career.