Tottenham Hotspur look destined to wave goodbye to a left-footed midfield lynhchpin in Mousa Dembele following six and a half years of fine service, but another midfielder who played for both Spurs and Fulham during his career, Lewis Holtby, never quite managed to command the midfield with the same prowess as the twinkle-toed Belgian.
There are plenty of players who have commanded genuine hype following their arrival at a new club, with the career which preceded the transfer lending supporters reason to believe that they have captured a gem.
But sometimes the player just doesn’t quite fit; there is a jagged edge which prevents you from completing the jigsaw; the player, despite his obvious talent, just isn’t made for the style of football.
Lewis Holtby is one of the most quintessential examples of these damp squib signings which perplex onlookers and evoke questions regarding the true extent of their ability.
The German midfielder arrived at White Hart Lane as a 22-year-old in January 2013 for a fee of just £1.5 million. Those who had kept an eye on his development salivated over the deal and tipped him to blossom into a mainstay in Tottenham’s midfield, where surely he would hold 90-minute fixtures in the palm of his hands.
But reality did not mirror the expectation and he failed to cement a place in the starting XI, with a lack of clarity concerning his best position giving Andre Villas-Boas something of a selection headache; Holtby played as a traditional central midfielder, an advanced number ten and on the left-wing without convincing in any position.
His performances were not of the standard supporters expected but flashes of the playmaking genius he was signed to provide hinted that perhaps the system was the problem, rather than Holtby himself.
But after a decent 6-month loan spell with Fulham came to an end, Holtby returned to Germany on a season-long loan deal with Hamburg, and his performances later earned him a permanent switch in a deal worth £4.6 million, bagging Spurs a profit of £3.1 million in the process.
In the three and a half years which have followed, Holtby has established himself as a mainstay at Hamburg, scoring 13 goals and providing 12 assists from 117 league appearances for the recently relegated outfit.
The Spurs supporters who viewed Holtby as an untapped talent will be delighted that he has managed to enjoy success at Hamburg, but there will remain a bitter-sweet aspect as fans ponder over what might have been for the diminutive midfielder.
That Holtby has remained at Hamburg this season, despite the fact they have dropped into Bundesliga 2, is a testament to his loyalty to the club and how appreciated he is by the supporters, and that will bring a smile to certain sections of Tottenham’s fanbase.
But, on the flip side, they might think that, even if there would be no place for him in Pochettino’s plans, they could have squeezed another level out of the German international and found a regular place for him in the side, and subsequently commanded a much healthier profit than the £3.1 million they made.
He’s not quite one that got away, but he’ll remain one of those frustrating talents who never quite achieved what he could and perhaps should have achieved in English football, for one reason or another.
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