Tottenham were being linked with the more famous names of Philippe Coutinho and Paulo Dybala in the last few days of the summer transfer window, but Argentina midfielder Giovani Lo Celso looks a much better signing for manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The deal agreed with Real Betis for Lo Celso on deadline day is a one-year loan with a €60 million option to buy next summer. That should allow the 23-year-old to show he has the versatility, as well as the technical and physical gifts, to be a big success in the Premier League. While Spurs are able to keep their money for next summer’s budget if it all works out.
Where does he come from?
Despite his age and baby-face looks, Tottenham’s new No. 18 has shown a lot of personality to get to this point of his career.
Born close to Lionel Messi‘s hometown of Rosario and Pochettino’s of Murphy, Lo Celso was identified early as a future star. He spent two years in his early teens at the renowned academy of ex-Atletico Madrid defender Jorge Griffa, where Pochettino also spent some of his formative years.
After dazzling in just one season as a professional with Rosario Central, Paris Saint-Germain brought Lo Celso to Europe in 2016, aged just 18. It understandably took the kid a while to settle in the French capital, but he gradually became an established member of the senior squad.
However, an overload of attack-minded players at the Parc des Princes saw him loaned to Betis ahead of the 2018-19 season. And it was there he proved himself to be arguably the most effective player outside La Liga’s big three teams that campaign.
Strengths and style
Lo Celso is primarily a creative playmaker, with excellent touch and vision, an impressive range of passing and a powerful shot. At Betis, he was encouraged to direct the team’s play — primarily as one of a midfield three, but also as a ‘false No. 9’ who could roam around the pitch and get involved wherever he thought best.
His standout display came when Quique Setien’s side shocked Barcelona 4-3 at Camp Nou in November, with Lo Celso putting in an unstoppable performance that landed him the man of the match award, despite Messi scoring twice for Barca.
Sergio Busquets, initially tasked with marking the midfielder, was substituted after being regularly left trailing in his wake; Ivan Rakitic took over only to be forced into a cynical foul which brought him a second yellow card; while his long-range strike tricked Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to get his name on the scoresheet too.
In total that season, Lo Celso scored 16 goals and provided six assists in 46 games, ensuring the Seville-based club finished 10th. And it was not long before they took up their €25m option to make his loan permanent, knowing bigger clubs had taken an interest.
Lo Celso’s versatility and willingness to get himself involved has been problematic at times. His most infamous moment during his PSG days was a disastrous evening as a holding midfielder in a Champions League round of 16 first leg game at the Bernabeu in February 2018, when an unnecessary foul on Toni Kroos gave Real Madrid a penalty lifeline in a game which Unai Emery’s team had been dominating but eventually lost 3-1.
Pochettino will likely want to pass on some extra pressing and tackling guidance, especially if he wants his new signing to play in a deeper role.
A lack of certainty over his best position has also been an issue with Argentina, and he lost his spot in the starting XI during the Albiceleste‘s predictably chaotic 2019 Copa America.
Even when struggling for game time in the French capital, Lo Celso’s attitude was not criticised by PSG fans who understood his frustrations.
After being allowed to join Betis, he was almost-comically-bad in his first couple of games, as over-ambitious passes kept going astray. However, his determination to make a positive impact was soon demonstrated by long-range screamers in early Europa League victories against Dudelange and Milan. He also stood up as a leader when Betis’ season went badly off the rails and was instrumental in a 2-0 victory for Setien’s side at Madrid on the final day of the season.
Consistency may be missing, but outstanding performances in victories at the Camp Nou, Bernabeu and San Siro in one season suggest that Lo Celso is a player comfortable on the biggest of stages.
Where is he heading?
The Pochettino connection was important to Lo Celso choosing Tottenham and rejecting the chance to move elsewhere, even as the deal with Betis became difficult with the transfer deadline looming.
It now remains to be seen how exactly the Tottenham manager plans to fit his fellow countryman into midfield and/or attack.
But all the evidence suggests that Lo Celso — more so than either Coutinho or Dybala — has the quality and personality to be a big success at Tottenham. No doubt the London club will make his loan deal a permanent move as quickly as Betis did next year.