Little Mix topped the charts with Shout Out To My Ex and Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City shared top spot in the Premier League. That was when Erik Lamela was ruled out with a hip injury in October 2016.
Spurs were three points back in fifth place and had just been knocked out of the EFL Cup when the then-club record signing sustained an injury in training. Initially it was claimed it wasn’t serious, with Mauricio Pochettino’s assistant, Jesús Peréz, suggesting there was just a “small problem with a tiny muscle”.
It quickly became apparent that the injury was worse than first feared. Pochettino was “worried” and wasn’t able to put a date on his return after the attacker underwent surgery. During his prolonged absence Spurs finished as runners-up in the Premier League and made it all the way to the FA Cup semi-final.
Pochettino tweaked the system, switching to what quickly became a dominant 3-4-3 formation with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen flanking Manchester United transfer target Harry Kane in attack. Heung-Min Son was more than an able deputy for any of the aforementioned trio and Moussa Sissoko had arrived during the summer of 2016 to add depth to the frontline.
It’s not to say Spurs had moved on from a player once touted as the ‘new Lionel Messi’, but they’d adapted to not having him at their disposal. Rumours in the summer hinted at a potential exit, with Internazionale reportedly keen on the former Roma man.
However, the 25-year-old remained in London and, finally, returned to first-team action in the 2-1 loss at Leicester City last month, coming off the bench to assist Kane’s consolation goal.
But does the Argentine international have a long-term future with the club? Perhaps more importantly, should he have one?
Cut ties and move on?
Lamela has plenty of questions to answer. For starters, is he still the same player? Under Pochettino his game come on leaps and bounds. It appeared as though he was on track to fufil his potential after taking time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League.
He was involved in 20 goals during the 2015/16 season in all competitions, grabbing an impressive nine assists in the process. He started the 2016/17 campaign well, too, and had a goal and three assists in nine starts.
Pochettino has a skill as a manager. Players under his guidance seem to find their goalscoring groove and Lamela was primed to be another to do just that before his injury.
However, after such an extended period on the sidelines there’s no guarantee he will return as the same player. After all, injuries change players.
Are Spurs in a position to gamble on a player who might not be reliable in terms of fitness? He’s still young enough, and his reputation remains, for the club to recoup a large portion of the £30million they parted with to secure his services.
The new Lamela might not be suited to the Premier League but the slower paced Serie A could still be ideal for him.
Lamela as squad player
Back when he signed for the club, £30million was an eye-watering amount. Nowadays, however, such a fee gets you a squad player. The TV money being pumped into the English game has seen prices rocket. Keeping a player worth that much despite not being a starter isn’t as much of a taboo as it once was.
For context, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with just one year left on his Arsenal deal, moved to Liverpool for close to £40million. He’s not been ruled out for close to a year like Lamela has but he’s had his fair share of injuries throughout his career and isn’t, arguably, as talented as the Argentine.
Lamela has a contract until 2020 so the club are in no rush to sell him. He would add to Pochettino’s attacking options with him offering something different to Alli, Eriksen and Son. For one, his left foot adds a balance to the Spurs’ attacking unit.
A potential Dele Alli replacement
Spurs aren’t a selling club but with the way the game is these days it’s safe to say every player has a price. Daniel Levy will no doubt want to keep hold of Alli but if Real Madrid arrive with an offer in the region of £100million it would no doubt be difficult to say no.
Furthermore, Alli may decide he has to move on at some stage, especially with Spurs having restrictions on wages. It was reported last month the ex-MK Dons man was in line for a pay rise.
It was claimed Alli would be offered around £80,000-a-week to add an extra year to his existing deal. That would put him ahead of Christian Eriksen but leave him some way short of top earner Harry Kane, who pockets roughly £100,000-a-week.
Alli could be plying his trade elsewhere for almost double that salary. Footballers have a short shelf life and you never know when it will be over so you can’t blame them for looking to maximise their earnings.
A culmination of Alli pressing for the move and a club offering big money may see Spurs forced to sell and they would need to find a replacement. Could it be Lamela?
Prior to his injury he looked to be playing some of the best football of his career. Under the guidance of Pochettino he could well rediscover that form and then some.
He’s not a readymade replacement, they’re slightly different players, but Lamela is intelligent enough to play a similar sort of style to that Alli within the Spurs system.
Pochettino has turned Sissoko into a valuable member of his squad again after a disastrous first season. Spurs fans will hope he can reintegrate Lamela to the same effect.