LONDON (Reuters) - Erik Lamela wants nothing more than increasing involvement in Tottenham Hotspur’s run-in to the Premier League season and the FA Cup after losing more than a year to injury.
The distant possibility of being considered by Argentina for the World Cup in Russia, which kicks off in June, would be a huge bonus for Lamela, who won his 23rd and last cap in a qualifier in Venezuela in 2016.
Lamela, who had two operations on a hip injury that put him out of action for 13 months, will be hoping for another start when Spurs host League One (third tier) Rochdale in their FA Cup fifth-round replay on Wednesday.
“I feel good, bit by bit I’m playing more since the injury and gradually finding my game, I’m improving,” Lamela said after Tottenham’s 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Sunday, his third start in 15 Premier League games since his comeback three months ago.
“I wasn’t able to do much, it was a difficult match, they defended well almost all the time with two well drilled lines of four,” he told Reuters after his few touches of skill came to little against a packed Palace defence.
Lamela, who turns 26 on Sunday when Spurs host Huddersfield Town in the league, has had almost full involvement in Tottenham’s FA Cup run and scored when they beat League Two (fourth tier) Newport County 2-0 in a fourth-round replay.
Manager and compatriot Mauricio Pochettino has been easing Lamela back after a difficult year made worse by a serious car accident to his younger brother in Argentina.
“There are days when I feel better than others, that’s normal after two operations, but I’m with the team throughout the training sessions and that’s good because it allows me to get in good shape,” Lamela said.
“I was out for a long time and that’s when you realise the kind of person (Pochettino) is. He always backed me when I was frustrated because I couldn’t play.
“Going to training and not being able to do things is not nice, he was always behind me when I was injured and now I’m trying to win my place here because there is very good competition (in the squad).”
Lamela would love to go to the World Cup with Argentina but has had no contact with coach Jorge Sampaoli.
“Depending on what I can do with my club I’ll have more or less possibilities (of a recall),” said Lamela, who was an understudy to Lionel Messi under former coach Gerardo Martino.
“You’ve got to be strong, train and look ahead. If I get called up that will be incredible and if not I just have to stay focused on my career and give of my best.
“For me the national team is something incredible,” Lamela said. “It’s the most wonderful thing to play for my country. When I was involved it was unique, wearing your country’s colours has no price.”
Reporting by Rex Gowar, editing by Ed Osmond