Key season ahead for Erik Lamela, says Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino believes Erik Lamela faces a make-or-break season at Tottenham.
The 23-year-old is the club's record signing but has struggled to make an impact since moving to White Hart Lane in 2013.
The Argentina international, who has been in and out of the team and scored just two Barclays Premier League goals last season, was rumoured to be close to leaving Spurs this summer.
However, he remains a Tottenham player and showed his potential as he provided the slide-rule pass that led to Ryan Mason scoring a late winner at Sunderland on Sunday.
The victory was the north London club's first of the campaign and, with the Europa League getting under way with a home game against Azerbaijan champions Qarabag on Thursday night, Pochettino knows now is the time for Lamela to finally prove his worth.
"We believe we can develop his game and I think we need to be patient with him," the Tottenham head coach said of his compatriot.
"It's true, now is the third season here, but we believe in him and we want to give the opportunity to show his value. We have a lot of games to play, for competition, we need a good player in all positions. I think with the squad we have, we have a very good balance.
"I think this is a key season for him. After two seasons at Tottenham, now is the moment for him. Not to put pressure, but it's true. It's a key moment for him to develop and to move on his game. It's important."
Having first caught the eye in Europe during his time with Roma, Lamela has been known to Pochettino since he burst onto the scene at River Plate - drawing instant comparisons to other Argentinian stars.
"Yes I knew him, it's normal - in Argentina I have friends.
"Lamela was young, long, blond hair and he made big impact. Always if there was going to appear a player in this style, left-footed, before he was the new (Diego) Maradona.
"Now he's the new (Lionel) Messi. It's like this. All the people compare him with new Messi and it's impossible to stop that."
Whether Lamela, who has 13 senior caps to his name, can ever replicate Maradona and Messi is unlikely but a strong season at White Hart Lane would show the fans he was worth the hefty investment two summers ago.