It’s been a long wait for Erik Lamela.
The Tottenham Hotspur winger is hoping 2018-19 will be the first full season he’s played in two years. A hip injury suffered in October 2016 cut that season short and delayed his start to the 2017-18 campaign until November.
Not that he needs reminding. Lamela can reel off the exact period of time for which he was off the field after delaying surgery, then undergoing multiple procedures in an effort to get back to 100 per cent.
Now, ahead of Tottenham’s International Champions Cup contest Wednesday in San Diego against his former club AS Roma and games against Barcelona at the Rose Bowl near Los Angeles and Milan in Minneapolis to come, he’s working with a full pre-season and has big goals for both himself and Spurs.
“My personal goal is to win a place in the team, as after the injury I was in and out. Obviously there are a lot of skilled players and the competition is high,” he told Goal. “I want to help the team with whatever it needs, be it defensively, in attack or wherever. That's what the most important thing is for me.
“For the team, the ambition is that we're able to lift a trophy this year. We already know we can finish in the top four, but the truth is that third, second or fourth is the same. This team needs to win a trophy, whether it's the league or a cup. There are a lot of competitions. Hopefully we have the chance. It's one of the goals: To play, that the team does well, that we can be champion and that I'm able to get back to the national team.”
Lamela is one of few Spurs stars who weren’t with their national teams this summer. No club had more players in the semi-finals of the World Cup than the North London side, with five Englishmen, three Belgians and French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in Russia for a month.
Few Argentines have the skill-set Lamela does and even fewer put those skills on display in a league as good as the Premier League. Yet he didn’t figure in Jorge Sampaoli’s plans - something Lamela attributes to a lack of regularity last season.
“I think the injury played against me,” he said. “When I came back, it was very gradual. I was going back and forth between playing as a starter and as a substitute. First I came in for a few minutes, then a little more. Last year, I think I only played three months with continuity, and maybe that wasn't enough. The manager decided to take players who came in with a more competitive rhythm than I had in the last year.”
This year, things should change, and not just with an invitation to the 2019 Copa America. Two goals in the final match of the season hint at the tricky Lamela of old emerging once again. Going through pre-season with Spurs rather than missing time after international duty, like many of those he’ll compete with for a place in the starting XI, will work in his favour.
And while manager Mauricio Pochettino has plenty of attacking weapons to choose from, he also has plenty of confidence in his compatriot. The relationship he’s developed with Pochettino was one of the reasons Lamela was eager to sign a four-year contract extension earlier this month.
“Obviously I get along with him really well. He's made it possible for me to stay so many years,” Lamela said of the manager. “I think it's been four years since I've met him, and the team has changed a lot since he took over. I think he’s had a lot to do with that. I think he gets along with the rest of my teammates as well, and he's really important for the team to be where it is today.”
That’s been in the top three the last three seasons, a remarkable achievement but one still lacking something. Spurs haven’t lifted a trophy in a decade with the last win piece of silverware coming in the 2007-08 League Cup.
“Without a doubt we're in the top four teams in the last four years,” Lamela said. ”The results say it all, that we're always there. We are missing one more step that hopefully we can take this year.
“Hopefully the team is able to win something. I think the team deserves it, as we're always right there. We're missing that one last touch, but hopefully this year it happens and we're able to fight from the start of the tournament because after that it's too late.”
With strong showings for Spurs in the rest of the ICC, Lamela should play a big role in making sure the club get the start they need and guarantee he has the fresh start he’s looking for after several seasons of frustration