Erik Lamela is having a miserable time at Tottenham Hotspur. After scoring 15 times as a 20-year-old a season ago for Roma, Daniel Levy splashed £30 million to acquire the breakout star, but Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood have combined to field him only 15 times in all competitions this season. Only eight of those games have been starts.
In hindsight, Lamela probably became the victim of Levy's rush to spend some of the money from his sale of Gareth Bale. Whether it was to give off the impression that he was reinvesting in the team after Real Madrid's record buy or a sincere desire to do so, it seems clear that the Spurs owner splashed his cash without really thinking of the on-field consequences. Lamela certainly hasn't fit into either manager's plans.
Now, as reported Wednesday by Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail, Lamela—unhappy and concerned for his place in Argentina's World Cup squad—is looking to leave White Hart Lane and return to Italy. There are several teams rumoured to be looking into acquiring his services. In the last 24 hours-plus, though, reports from media outlets such as ESPN and the Mirror—as well as the aforementioned Daily Mail article—seem to have narrowed things down to Juventus.
This should be welcome news for fans of the Bianconeri.
The move is doable financially. Juve, thanks to their palatial club-owned stadium, are currently the financial powerhouses of Italy. Additionally, some of the potential transfer fee for Lamela could be offset by selling Mirko Vucinic.
The Montenegrin is a spare part at Juve now. Antonio Conte prefers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez as his starting striking force, and Fabio Quagliarella is likely preferred as the primary backup. Vucinic would be good depth for the team's Europa League run, but he wants to play, and Spurs is an ideal place for him to nose his way into a regular role. Conversely, Tottenham will be needing a forward as, according to Sky Sports, Jermaine Defoe's potential move to MLS's Toronto FC nears completion.
That need, combined with the lackluster play of Roberto Soldado, could be leveraged by the Italians. If Tottenham is still desperate for a forward by the time deadline day rolls around, it could drive down the monetary price of Lamela.
If he arrives at Juve, the possibilities are tantalizing. The key to his usefulness in Turin is his ability as a winger.
Fans have been crying out for more tactical diversity ever since Conte's 3-5-2—such a landmark in domestic play—was badly exposed by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of last year's Champions League. Particular improvements needed to be made on the wings.
Now, to be fair to Conte, almost any set of tactics seemed to end up being badly exposed by last year's gargantuan of a Bayern team. Still, the search was on for a way to switch tactics and allow for better wing defense.
His failure to do so despite experimenting with a 4-3-3 against Real Madrid has seen Conte portrayed as doggedly holding on to his beloved 3-5-2. This is unfair. Remember, Conte was a devout believer in the radical 4-2-4 when he arrived at Juve before he changed to the 4-3-3 to accommodate the arrival of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal.
He adopted the 3-5-2 afterward, first as an alternative to slow counterattacking sides like Walter Mazzarri's Napoli and then as his full-time formation to cover for his lack of a left-back and to accommodate the three high-quality center-backs he had on his roster.
He merely dabbled with the 4-3-3 in the Champions League mainly because he lacks the players to use it on a regular basis.
One problem is at left-back. The team has no true players at the position other than Paolo De Ceglie, and no one is prepared to send him out into a Champions League game for 90 minutes.
But a bigger worry is that no one on Conte's squad can really be called a winger. Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco are both "tweeners" (to borrow the WWE term) who can operate on the left wing as well as as a second striker, but neither one is a true wing player. Who might play the right wing besides oft-injured fan favorite Simone Pepe is anyone's guess—and with no disrespect to Pepe, he's not someone you would pay through the nose to acquire.
This conundrum is why Lamela can be such a useful player to Conte. He can play on the right or on the left as a dynamic wing player. He has a cannon of a long-range shot, can break defenders down in the box off the dribble and excels at delivering through balls. He also shows great ability cutting inside and laying the ball off to runners in the box.
With the likes of Tevez, Llorente, Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba on the receiving end of those passes, opposing defenses will likely be hard-pressed to keep their net protected.
With Pirlo—who the Mirror reports is on the verge of signing a two-year extension—and defender Leonardo Bonucci keying attacks with their pinpoint passing ability, that picture turns downright frightening.
Lamela would be cup-tied for Juve's Europa League run, but barring a collapse of truly epic proportions, the team will find itself in the Champions League again next year—where he could really start paying dividends.
Tactical flexibility is a key part of Juve's progression into a team that can truly contend on the European stage. The teams lack thereof is not, as some popular perception asserts, due to the manager but to the players available to him. One or two additions to the squad could allow a 4-3-3 to bloom. Erik Lamela is a player who can answer a lot of questions at the winger position, and Tottenham's potential striker situation may give Juve the cards in transfer negotiations.
He is available and could make a world of difference. Giuseppe Marotta should make every effort to acquire this impact player.