No player in recent Tottenham history has divided the fanbase as much as Erik Lamela.
He’s had undeniably amazing moments that will live on as part of Spurs’ storied fabric forever. He’s also undeniably underwhelmed for the majority of his career in north London, set to leave for Sevilla with only 37 goals in 255 games.
The final member of Spurs‘ ‘magnificent seven’ bought with the Gareth Bale money is departing, with only one clear and obvious successful signing to come from it (that of Christian Eriksen from Ajax for a cool £11.5m). That hasn’t made Lamela a failure, however.
Sure, his goal and assist totals aren’t pretty. His per 90 stats aren’t much better, either (he averaged 0.39 goals and assists per game in the Premier League over an eight-year stretch). But Lamela typified Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino when his body allowed him to, setting the tempo for the press and pretty much being the living embodiment of the ‘Battle of the Bridge’ debacle.
Lamela loved a big game, too, coming up with huge performances against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Juventus and Arsenal. Yet most importantly, he was the greatest sh**house Spurs have ever seen.
Getting Anthony Martial sent off in a 6-1 win at Old Trafford. Calling Jack Wilshere a ‘p****’. ‘Accidentally’ standing on Cesc Fabregas’ hand. Winning a last minute penalty in front of the Kop end. Nearly two-footing a child in a promotional game for club sponsors AIA. Anyone can win a few pots and pans; who else in football has ever had a CV like this?
Lamela arrived as Spurs’ record signing, and while contributions on the pitch may not have lived up to the hype, he’s at least had a huge hand in giving fans plenty of fond memories (which is basically the cornerstone of all Tottenham have had to cheer about over the last decade).
The massive chasm between tangible and intangible contributions are what have made him so divisive. At no point of his Spurs career has Lamela ever really been prolific, and the battle lines were quickly drawn after arriving from Roma. On one side were fans who were demanding more from a £30m winger, the other those who wanted to give him time, and later, the benefit of the doubt that injuries had changed the player he was expected to be.
Both sides are in the right, but football is scarcely about impartiality and almost totally partisan, which ultimately is what will help carry his legacy from middling player to cult hero.
This could have been an article waxing lyrical about his rabona goals or his predictable ball-rolls (particularly the one on the edge of his own box in the last minute against Ajax), but that would be a disservice to Lamela the character and an over-appreciation of Lamela the footballer. Even then, he was always happy at Spurs, never complained about his minutes, and always put in a shift.
He was the man tasked with being the ‘new Bale’. Lamela didn’t come close to reaching those heights on a footballing level, but he’ll be remembered fondly by most in north London as if he actually did. Would I want Spurs to pay £30m for that experience over again? Absolutely.