Amid strong interest from Marseille towards the end of the summer transfer window, many believed Erik Lamela's stay in north London could be about to come to a premature end.
After making just nine appearances in his first season at White Hart Lane following his £25million arrival from Roma, despite sporadic glimpses of quality, it was hard to see just why then-technical director Franco Baldini had worked so hard to bring the Argentine to the club. Lamela appeared to struggle to get to grips with the tempo and physicality of the Premier League in his first few months at Tottenham and a back injury would eventually rule the winger out for the remainder of what proved to be a frustrating debut campaign.
The departure of Tim Sherwood as interim coach and subsequent appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as manager in the summer of 2014 breathed new life into Lamela's fledgling White Hart Lane career, with many hoping the former Saints boss could help unlock the patent potential of his compatriot and Tottenham's record signing. Things are rarely that straightforward in football, however, and as the 2014/15 campaign rolled on, Lamela continued to divide opinion among the Spurs faithful.
Much of the criticism leveled at the Argentina international during his sophomore season at White Hart Lane surrounded his price-tag, a factor the former River Plate youngster had no hand in and is only now starting to shake off. Lamela's second season as a Spurs player was reflective of Pochettino's debut campaign as a whole, occasionally underwhelming and frustrating yet with flashes of brilliance and tangible potential.
Lamela finished the season with the club's highest number of Premier League assists (seven) and was responsible for one of the most stupendous, breathtaking goals White Hart Lane has seen in the modern era, the spectacular 20-yard rabona in the 5-1 Europa League win over Asteras Tripolis, yet sections of supporters were, understandably, unhappy with the winger's return in what was his first full season with the club.
Fast forward to January 2016, and Lamela is reaping the benefits of the system put in place by his compatriot Pochettino. The Argentine's tireless effort and resilience has won over the overwhelming majority of the Spurs faithful, many of whom had previously written off his chances of becoming a success at the club.
The Argentine is currently second only to Christian Eriksen in terms of chances created, key passes and assists in the Premier League, but has committed some 31 fouls more than the imitable Dane, a nasty streak that seems to have won him more praise than condemnation among the Spurs fans, with the endeavour and intensity a staple of his game.
The visceral hunger of Lamela to get in to the box and score goals is something we rarely saw until this season. His goal in the 1-1 draw at Monaco in the Europa League back in October came as a result of a lung-bursting run from his own area, while his strike in the 5-1 drubbing of Bournemouth three weeks later came from a well-timed burst into the box to latch onto Harry Kane's pass from five yards out. The increased aggression in his positioning is the result of good coaching on Pochettino's behalf and the willingness of Lamela to have more of a direct impact during games.
The added attacking impetus has not taken away from the Argentine's tireless defensive intensity, though, with himself and Kyle Walker forming a formidable right-hand side for Spurs both in defence and attack.
Pochettino blocked Marseille's approach to take Lamela on loan in the summer, urging his compatriot to step up and make an impact at the club. Nearly six months on and the Argentina international has missed just two of Spurs' 22 Premier League outings and appears to have shaken off the scapegoat tag many levelled at him in his first two seasons with the club. The 23-year-old now stands of one of the most important, hard-working and creative players in a Tottenham squad brimming with talent and potential.
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