FootballPremier League

Classy, composed, and competitive: Tottenham need to snap up Lo Celso sharpish

June 4, 2019

REPORTS that Tottenham are close to signing Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis should bring a boost to Spurs’ fans still getting over last weekend’s Champions League final disappointment.

A lack of ingenuity and ideas in midfield was definitely an issue for Tottenham in Madrid on Saturday evening – and Lo Celso’s superb 2018/19 showed that the 23 year-old Argentina international has both in abundance.

Liberated from Paris Saint Germain’s overbooking of attack-minded players by Betis last summer, Lo Celso took a few weeks to settle in Seville. But he soon emerged as maybe the most talented player outside La Liga’s big three teams.

Among Lo Celso’s standout individual performances in his first season as a regular starter in Europe was a man of the match showing when Betis completely outplayed Barca while winning 4-3 at the Camp Nou in November. Playing just off the front-man that night he was unstoppable – first marker Sergio Busquets was substituted, then Ivan Rakitic took over but was soon forced into a second yellow card. The display also included a long ranger which tricked Blaugrana goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen for his first La Liga goal.

A few weeks’ before that, Lo Celso had scored an absolute screamer and made the other goal as Betis won 2-1 at Milan’s San Siro in the Europa League. There were also fine strikes against Villarreal, Valencia and local rivals Sevilla, with his form holding up really well even as Betis’ season fell apart. On the final day of the campaign, he was easily the game’s most influential player as Betis deservedly won 2-0 at Real Madrid.

In total Lo Celso racked up 16 goals and six assists in 46 games for Betis last season, with his output growing when coach Quique Setien moved him into a false nine role, roving around and linking with more experienced but similarly intelligent teammates like Sergio Canales and Joaquin Sanchez.

 

Setien’s system has been very good for Lo Celso,” former Betis and Argentina midfielder Gabriel Calderon told El Pais in April “I’ve not been surprised by his ability to score goals. He played as a forward at Rosario Central – he can shoot and has a striker’s instinct. He’s going to be a top player.”

Calderon was not the only observer to have that opinion, and as quickly as they could Betis made his loan deal permanent for just €22 million. His current deal reportedly has a €100 million release clause, although Tottenham appear to think they can get him for what would be still a bargain fee of €60m [https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/48433820]. The Premier League club would surely also offer him a big rise on his Betis salary, and Setien's departure removes a big reason to stay another season.

At this point the issue is not whether Tottenham should be interested at that price, but why some other even richer clubs are not. Fellow Argentine Jorge Valdano has reportedly recommended him to Madrid president Florentino Perez.  But the Bernabeu outfit currently appears more interested in Spurs’ Christian Eriksen, and everyone could end up happy if the merry-go-round also allowed a return to Betis for the currently lost looking Dani Ceballos.

Before any of that gets sorted, Lo Celso is with Argentina preparing for the upcoming Copa America in Brazil. Having featured in seven of his country’s last eight games, 'el monito' [the little monkey] will be more involved than in Russia last summer when he watched every minute of the Albiceleste’s latest tournament meltdown from the bench.

Current Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is definitely a fan. And it could be an advantage that he – like both Lo Celso and Lionel Messi – is from the city of Rosario. The hope is that his natural ability and awareness might be more in tune with Messi than past midfield colleagues Enzo Perez and Lucas Biglia.

“Our big job now is that Messi does not inhibit the others,” Scaloni has said pre-tournament. “For example that Lo Celso is the same with the national team as he is with Betis.”

Should that come to pass and he have a good tournament in a successful Argentina side, Lo Celso's future horizons might open up even further. Tottenham are famously more than 18 months now without adding any new players. It would make a lot of sense to get this one done sharpish.