By Dan Grimes – TFN Columnist @False_CB
So I’ve decided to give my best attempts at analysing a player who has intrigued me ever since his arrival at Spurs in the summer of 2013. Erik Lamela signed for Spurs following a real breakthrough season at AS Roma. He picked up 15 goals and five assists in 33 games, making him joint fourth top scorer in the Serie A, at just 21. Being part of the infamous ‘Magnificent Seven’ who were all brought in to replace Gareth Bale in 2013, there was always going to be pressure on him. The rumoured price tags and talk of him being the club’s record signing did not make his job any easier. In Part I of the article, I’ll be briefly looking over Lamela’s career before he signed for Tottenham, the circumstances which brought him to the club, and possible reasons as to why his first couple of years in the Premier League may not have gone as well as some expected them to.
I first of all want to start off with the process in which Lamela joined Spurs. The club must have been fully aware that a certain Welshman was already packing his bags come May 2013, and the scouts and staff behind the scenes must have been frantically going about their search for potential replacements. Early in that summer Franco Baldini was brought in, as per Andre Vilas Boas’ recommendations for a ‘Technical Director’. People often accredit the signings of the next few months to Mr. Baldini, and no more so than Erik Lamela. As Franco had only recently left his post at Roma, people believed that it was his experience in working with Lamela that led to his arrival 2 months later. This all seems feasible, until you look into his job description, where Levy refers to him as a ‘deal-breaker’, and AVB states that he is ‘someone who has experience of dressing rooms, represents the club, and is able to link up with players and agents.’ This clearly shows how Franco’s role at Tottenham was to get deals over the line via negotiating with players and agents, presumably over price, wages and clauses. At no point does it suggest that he is responsible for selecting, scouting or personally recruiting any players. This means that even if he was to suggest that Spurs were to sign Lamela, the decisions taken on him would have ultimately been made by someone else, and some serious scouting would have been carried out, before Franco got the green light to commence negotiations.
Despite all the negativity shown towards Baldini during his time at Spurs, no one can argue that he certainly fulfilled the role of getting these deals over the line. That leaves us with the scouting system. It’s obvious that the club had instructed scouts to focus on foreign talents to be brought in from abroad in that summer, as all seven signings came from seven different leagues, none of which being the Premier League. Evidently, Spurs’ network had covered leagues ranging from Liga do Brazil to the Romania Liga 1. This was probably done in order to avoid paying over the odds for players from rival Premier League teams, but in cutting costs by signing players from overseas, you also add risk and uncertainty as to whether they can perform in possibly the most fast paced and physical league in the world. This is where I feel the scouts made their major mistakes.
Serie A is known for being a very defensive league, where attackers rely on their technical abilities such as dribbling and passing to break down heavily armoured, well organised opposition defences. The defensive style means teams often sit back in order to soak up pressure, and this allows attackers more time and space to operate in. Lamela’s success in this league undoubtedly came from this extra time and space, allowing him to impress in his ability to dribble, score and create chances, but also suggests that he may have neglected the aspects of his game that were not as necessary in this league, such as physicality, first touch and decision making. Seeing as defences would typically sit deeper and allow the football to be played in front of them, Lamela would rarely be rushed into making quick decisions. He’d often have time to run with the ball, pick his head up, and almost casually play a pass to a teammate, and as there would be little pressure applied to him when receiving passes, a good first touch wasn’t really required in order for him to be successful. Having that extra yard between him and the defender meant any clumsy touches would almost go unnoticed and unpunished, meaning it is unlikely that he ever had major concerns over quality of his touch.
Then there is the physical side. As there is a lower intensity of play in Serie A, it isn’t uncommon to see successful players heavily lacking in either pace or strength, or sometimes both. The defenders in this league are often on the older side, meaning attackers don’t necessarily need to be quick to beat them, and as they are less likely to be pressured by defenders, strength can often be a needless requirement for a successful Serie A attacker. On the contrary, The Premier League heavily requires teams to be both physically and mentally strong, whilst remaining technically sufficient, so why, oh why, did the club take such a massive gamble on Lamela?
Well, it’s quite obvious really. They saw a young, Argentinian talent with the goal scoring prowess of a striker (he was averaging almost a goal every two games), the creativity and guile of a playmaker, and all the flair and ability the world has come to expect from South Americans, all rolled into one player. It seemed he was viewed as the most like for like replacement brought in for Bale that window, but it’s clear that his flaws made him nowhere near ready to fill the boots of a player of that calibre. Bale demonstrated week in, week out that he had explosive pace, was physically well-rounded, had a determined, decisive mentality, and took on responsibility, and on top of all that, he had immense ability. Lamela lacked in all of these categories apart from his ability, which by no means matched Bale’s, but it was definitely there, and could be brought on through natural development and coaching.
On the other hand, Erik’s lack of responsibility, confidence and physicality seemed like it really would need some heavy management in order for him to be a success, and the club didn’t cater for that at all. There’s also debate over which position suits Lamela the best. He was mainly seen as a right winger at Roma, but was also effective playing more centrally as an attacking midfielder. From watching his style of play, it seems that he’d thrive off of playing in a central role, with his ability to beat players and pick out well timed through balls to runners ahead of him, also giving him opportunities to shoot from distance, where he can be effective. Unfortunately for him, the club also signed a more natural attacking midfielder in Christian Eriksen, meaning Lamela would probably have to settle for playing on the right of AVB’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Although this is a position he was certainly used to, and had played there frequently throughout his career, it seemed that he would struggle to adapt to the premier league, due to his slight lack of pace, and willingness to come inside regularly. With right sided wide wingers Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend already at the club, and both being blessed with natural pace, and a desire to stay wide when possible, Erik was going to find it hard to break into the team, and make the right side his own.
It seems like the club jumped at the chance to sign a potential world class talent, without sufficient scouting or research, and overlooking some major drawbacks to Lamela’s game which made this move seem like a complete shot in the dark, with a higher chance of failure. However, the club did now have a young talent on their hands, and it would be interesting to see how they handled that, and how Lamela’s career developed there. In part two, I’ll be reviewing Lamela’s career with Spurs so far, how well (or badly) he has been managed, and how he has developed and adapted to life at Spurs so far.