Giovani Lo Celso: I Try Not to Compare Myself to Christian Eriksen
After five months at the club it was only in the past week that Giovani Lo Celso finally became a Tottenham player. The Argentinian arrived at White Hart Lane last summer on loan, one of the pieces in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans to rejuvenate the team. In January he signed a five-year permanent contract to play under the management of José Mourinho. A lot can change quickly in football.
“Right now I’m really enjoying the moment of being at such a big club like Spurs,” says Lo Celso, sitting comfortably at Tottenham’s top-of-the-range training facility. “In the beginning it wasn’t so easy for me. I was coming to a new league, a new language, a new culture, and then I got injured shortly after arriving. But right now I couldn’t feel better.”
Lo Celso arrived with a reputation as a goalscoring playmaker, perhaps earmarked as the successor to Christian Eriksen, whom the club had hoped and failed to move on last summer. Just as he was bedding in, however, Lo Celso sustained a hip injury on international duty and missed the best part of two months. By the time he had recovered, Pochettino had left the club and Mourinho was installed. They are two coaches with different philosophies but Lo Celso had prior experience of being adaptable in order to succeed.
“Over my career I have played in a variety of positions because my managers have asked me,” he says. “Now I’m at Tottenham and since being here I have already played wide, I’ve played centrally as well. The important thing for me is always to do the best I can for the team and to respond to the requests of my coach, and above all it’s crucial for me to be happy out on the pitch.”
As for comparisons with the now departed Eriksen, Lo Celso is polite but hardly seeks to encourage them. “Christian is a great player and I have seen that through the months I have spent with him here,” he says. “But at the end of the day the club and Eriksen both came to a decision that it was right for a change. So I try not to compare myself to him.”
It is perhaps this hard-headed attitude that has helped Lo Celso to impress his current manager. The Argentinian, a technical player who stands at 5ft 10in, is not a stereotypical Mourinho man but the Spurs manager was effusive about him after a dominant performance against Southampton in the FA Cup fourth round.
“With me in the first couple of weeks he understood what we want – he is a good learner, a good kid,” Mourinho said. “It has been an incredible evolution since I arrived.”
Part of the evolution has been positional, with Lo Celso increasingly dropping away from that Eriksen-shaped hole behind the striker (one occupied by Dele Alli) and into central midfield where he has played alongside Harry Winks. Against Norwich in Spurs’ last Premier League match, Lo Celso was dominant in that area, asserting his full range of passing but also showing a willingness for the physical challenges that role provides, and an alacrity in getting about the pitch.
It was also from deep that the 23-year-old began his slaloming run against Southampton, one in which he beat five players on the way to setting up Son Heung-min’s goal in a 1-1 draw.
They followed up the draw with a 2-0 win against Manchester City last weekend.
Mourinho and Pochettino may have their stylistic differences but both are bullish men and, listening to Lo Celso speak, one can hear why both managers have taken a shine to him. Now that his long-term future at Tottenham has been secured he can concentrate on leaving his mark on the club.
“There have been many Argentinians in the past at Tottenham and they have left a great imprint on the club here,” Lo Celso says with a smile. “The fans still talk about [Ossie] Ardiles and [Ricky] Villa and, of course, Mauricio Pochettino carried that on for so many years. Now it’s up to us to continue this tradition.”
The Guardian Sport