Tottenham Hotspur's German midfielder Lewis Holtby, 24, is trying to get out of a slump on loan at Hamburg.
His struggles are compounded by English defensive midfielder Ryan Mason, 23, breaking out at White Hart Lane.
Holtby vs. Mason
"It probably wasn't a good idea to pick Lorient but I thought playing in the top league in France would be better than playing in the Championship again," Mason said when recounting his dour Ligue 1 loan, per Matt Barlow at the Daily Mail. "I spent that [2012/13] season hardly kicking a ball."
Thirty players not named Mason logged minutes in Ligue 1 for Lorient that campaign.
"Ryan, who?" probably would be then-Lorient manager Christian Gourcuff's response if you asked him about Mason.
Lorient was one of five loan spells Mason experienced before receiving a lifeline under Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino.
It was the same chance Holtby's agent Marcus Noack wanted for his client.
"There is a new manager there now which means it's a fresh start for [Holtby] and a fresh start for everyone," Noack said, per Sky Sports. "He wants to stay and prove himself and be part of the team."
Though, Mason was unruffled as he outworked his contemporaries for an extended starting run.
Ryan Mason (2014/15): 3.5 tackles per 90 minutes, 69.4 tackle success per cent, 3.6 tackles per foul, 1.7 interceptions per 90 minutes.
Lewis Holtby (2014/15): 3.0 tackles per 90 minutes, 71.6 tackle success per cent, 1.7 tackles per foul, 1.8 interceptions per 90 minutes.
What are some positive attributes of Holtby?
Energetic, team-first and runs hard—that is how you can also describe Mason, which explains why there is not a degree of separation when you compare their defensive statistics.
However, Mason has a substantial advantage from a passing perspective.
He is more reliable, less turnover-prone and functions as a passing outlet.
Whereas, Holtby is too hit-and-miss in his attempts to make the game-winning pass.
Ryan Mason (2014/15): 59.9 passes per 90 minutes, 83.1 pass success per cent, 66.2 long-pass success per cent, 1.0 key passes per 90 minutes, 3 assists.
Lewis Holtby (2014/15): 38.7 passes per 90 minutes, 70 pass success per cent, 52.6 long-pass success per cent, 1.4 key passes per 90 minutes, 1 assist.
Pochettino witnessed glimpses of Mason's potential before the Premier League season started.
"Ryan in the beginning of pre-season was good," Pochettino said, per Press Association Sport (h/t ESPN FC). "He is a great talent from the academy."
Mason had the inside track to the first team, because he was always rated by Pochettino, unbeknownst to Holtby.
"Now I've got a manager who trusts in me and believes in me," Mason said, per Jamie Bradbury at The FA's official website. "[Pochettino] came in from day one and said that."
At first glance, Holtby is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, but his playing rights are owned by Hamburg after a €6.5/£4.7 million auto-buy clause was triggered during this season, per Bild (h/t Oliver Fisher at Vavel).
Transfermarkt have listed Holtby's permanent move to Hamburg as "upcoming," which will be ratified when the 2015 summer transfer window opens.
If the reports are true, then it is an ill-fated and rash decision from Hamburg when Holtby has yet to reach the standards he set at Schalke.
"I had my so-called prime time at Schalke, where I became a senior German international," Holtby said, per HSV.de. "I am annoyed by what I have shown since joining Hamburg. I have nowhere near shown my full potential. I know I can do more."
Holtby has been playing catch-up at Hamburg.
His transfer stock plummeted having suffered relegation on loan at Fulham during the 2013-14 Premier League season.
Holtby probably felt like Bart Simpson staring down Sideshow Bob when receiving instructions from Felix Magath at Fulham.
Context: Magath routinely benched Holtby and was deemed surplus to requirements at Schalke.
So much for the Lucky Lewis tag to endure another dose of Magath.
"Lewis is very skilful and a nice player, but he is not a fighter," Magath said, per Sky Sports. "I think he has put too much pressure on himself."
The latter comment applies to Holtby rushing his passes and succumbing to the temptation of gambling for a high-risk, highlight-reel, Hollywood, home-run assist.
It is a problem which has plagued Holtby even when he was part of the Bruchweg Boys (trio involving Adam Szalai and Andre Schurrle), which exasperated then-Mainz manager Thomas Tuchel, per Uli Hesse at ESPN FC: "That was a Schalke pass, Lewis!"
This is why Holtby is 30 per cent likely to cede possession whenever he passes the ball for Hamburg.
One assist in 1,439 minutes over 19 Bundesliga games is an indictment on Holtby's worth as a midfielder.
He is not a orchestrator of play, he is an inaccurate passer and does not produce a Kevin De Bruyne-like through ball.
Holtby lacks a concrete identity, hence he was a misfit at Tottenham Hotspur and has been shifted around at Hamburg.
- Central attacking midfielder: Borussia Monchengladbach 1-0 Hamburg.
- Central midfielder: Schalke 0-0 Hamburg.
- Defensive midfielder: Hannover 96 2-0 Hamburg.
- Left attacking midfielder: Hamburg 1-1 Hoffenheim.
- Right attacking midfielder: Hamburg 0-2 Wolfsburg.
The source of Holtby's desperation could be the physical and psychological pain of breaking a collarbone in a January friendly, as then-Hamburg manager Josef Zinnbauer rued.
"It is of course so bitter for Lewis," Zinnbauer said, per HSV.de. "I really feel for him."
Holtby sat out seven Bundesliga games.
Seven, a number which is three less than the amount of managers Hamburg have employed this season:
- Mirko Slomka.
- Josef Zinnbauer.
- Peter Knabel.
- Bruno Labbadia.
Holtby knows the four key components of a bad season: injuries, no identity, poor form and instability.
- Hamburg are on course to be relegated to the 2. Bundesliga (German second division) having accumulated 25 points from 29 games.
- Bild places Holtby at No. 220 out of 232 footballers in their Bundesliga player rankings.
- Kicker places Holtby at No. 202 out of 206 footballers in their Bundesliga player rankings.
Assuming the role of defendant, Holtby is guilty of a nightmarish first impression in front of the presiding judges—the Hamburg fans.
When not specified, statistics via WhoScored.com.