The Argentine produced a virtuoso goal of rare brilliance during a performance that highlighted his rapid emergence as Tottenham’s most potent attacking threat
“It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low.” The most famous words of legendary manager Bill Nicholson have been the defining aspiration – if not always the reality – of Tottenham ever since they were first uttered. It was only fitting then, that on a night set aside to mark the passing and legacy of the club’s most towering figure, Erik Lamela embraced the spirit of the mantra.
Harry Kane, the other protagonist of the evening, had already put Spurs ahead and in control when the ball ran loose on the edge of the penalty area in the 29th minute.
What followed was one of the few moments in football that renders the other 21 players on the pitch as awed as the thousands in the stands. Lamela pounced from the side of the box and, without a moment’s hesitation, wrapped his left leg around his right and sent the ball curling in a beautiful arc around Tomas Kosicky and inside the far post. Jan Vertonghen and Ben Davies put their hands to their heads in wide-eyed amazement. Others simply stood and stared, jaws agape.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino was the only man in the stadium to remain impassive. Fresh gasps and choruses of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ greeted every replay of the goal on the big screens at either end of White Hart Lane. The masses had seen but could not yet bring themselves to believe.
Lamela’s was a moment – much like Dennis Bergkamp’s unforgettable strike against Newcastle or Gianfranco Zola’s backflick volley against Norwich City – that resides in the place where football meets art.
It was also the sensational pinnacle of an all-round excellent performance. Lamela took just 15 seconds to deliver a hint of the genius that was to come, executing a no-look pass with his first touch of the ball, and the prodigious Argentine proceeded in the same virtuoso spirit.
He drifted around the final third with pace, purpose and deceptive power, taking every opportunity to run at the Asteras defence. Playing the 47 minutes between his astonishing opener and substitution on the crest of a tidal wave, he grew in stature with every touch and deservedly doubled his tally when he followed up his own shot to volley through the legs of Munafo Horta on 66 minutes.
Kane did his best to steal the evening, scoring an impressively varied hat-trick before a hapless late cameo in goal following Hugo Lloris’ surreal dismissal, but the raucous ovation that greeted his withdrawal on 76 minutes provided the most emphatic reminder possible of who was the true star of the show.
The rabona will long outlive the rest of this night, but much of Lamela’s exceptional performance was a mere continuation of recent form. He has emerged under Pochettino as Tottenham’s most dangerous attacking threat, and now appears to be adding a killer instinct to his formidable array of weapons, even if his decisions in the final third sometimes frustrate.
Lamela’s road to acceptance at White Hart Lane has already been a long and tortuous one. For a while it seemed the challenge of adapting from Serie A to the Premier League, compounded by a language barrier and managers unreceptive to his needs, threatened to ruin his career, but Spurs fans are finally beginning to see why he commanded €33 million and prompted some to herald the arrival of Gareth Bale’s long-term heir.
At just 22-years-old, Lamela has it within him and, as the lucky few present at White Hart Lane on Thursday evening will be the first to attest, the journey could be a thrilling one.