If the feeling around Lewis Holtby’s arrival at Tottenham Hotspur back in January was one of anticipation, then nearly two months on, it’s now perhaps one of curiosity amongst the Lilywhites’ support.
The 22-year-old German international came to White Hart Lane amongst a cascade of fanfare eight weeks ago, but where as many might have expected the former-Schalke man to be a prominent presence in Spurs’ push down the Premier League’s home straight, he’s remained more upon the periphery, rather than the forefront.
And as Andre Villas-Boas’ side’s recent hiccup in form threatens to turn into a far more sinister wobble, Holtby’s absence from the side in recent games hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Portuguese has come under fire from some for perceived tactical naivety in the defeats against both Internazionale and Fulham, but for as frustrated as fans were with the way the team was set up, it was Villas-Boas’ reluctance to play Holtby that particularly rankled.
But for as frustrating as it may be to see Holtby’s adaptation to English football progress at more of a walking pace rather than a rate of knots, supporters must be keen to not let the hype surrounding the German cloud their judgements. His integration into both this Spurs side and Premier League football is a marathon, not a sprint.
Following his initial burst of appearances in a white shirt, supporters can perhaps be forgiven for scratching their heads in regard to the lack of game time that Holtby has recently been afforded.
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His cameos against both Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion away may not have been ground breaking, but in both occasions on his first two outings for the club, Holtby managed to wield a considerable impact. Certainly, he showed enough to whet the appetites of supporters even further, with his exhibition of crisp one-touch passing and positive furrows forward.
Although while impressing in bursts is all well and good, it’s maintaining an impact from kick-off that’s been a slightly tougher nut to crack for Holtby. During starts against Newcastle United and the away leg against Lyon in the Europa League, despite not playing particularly poor, he naturally looked like a man still trying to find his feet within this Spurs side.
But if supporters were in any need of a reminder of the patience needed within Holtby’s adaptation, the 3-2 win away at West Ham United last month, offered something of a reality check to a hype machine that had perhaps got a little carried away in the preceding weeks.
Holtby suffered a tough time against a steely, powerful and unrelenting Hammers midfield that refused to allow the Spurs midfield a second on the ball. It’s easy to revert to stereotype in this circumstance, but a London derby in the East End is a long way away from the technically infused battles that Holtby had been puppeteering back at the Vetlins Arena in the Bundesliga.
It’s going to take time for Holtby to be able to consistently apply his gifts within this league and just because he’s made his move mid-season, it doesn’t mean that he should be instantly expected to hit the ground running.
The counter-argument is of course that Lewis Holtby isn’t going to adapt to the rigors of English football by sitting on the bench, but it was within the success of his substitution on that night at Upton Park, that you understand how difficult it is for Villas-Boas to afford the German the game time he needs.
Gylfi Sigurdsson has been a player that’s also been in desperate need of game time and a run of starts all season, but up until recent games, that simply hasn’t happened. Yet the Icelandic international couldn’t have done more than what he did coming off the bench against West Ham to gain a start and for as much as Holtby needs game time, Villas-Boas has to remain fair.
Dropping Holtby for Sigurdsson in the North London derby was a tough, but ultimately correct decision and the way in which the former-Swansea loanee has reacted to his run in the side has wholly vindicated Villas-Boas’ selection. Had Sigurdsson not taken his chance against West Ham, maybe Holtby wouldn’t have been sitting on the bench so much in recent games.
But the fact is that he did and the problem for Villas-Boas is that he has the task of trying to carefully ease his new signing’s introduction into English football, while fighting an increasingly bitter battle for success on two fronts. Lewis Holtby is only going to get better by clocking up more time in the league, but Spurs aren’t in a position where they can afford any players an induction process.
And it’s within the timing of his switch from Schalke, that we understand why the club wasn’t initially in any rush to make bring forward a transfer originally penned in for the summer.
Far from the suggestions of penny-pinching towards the chairman Daniel Levy, the fact is there was a reason the club originally wanted him in June as opposed to January and it had little to do with a £1.5million outlay. As his three starts in two months suggest, he arrived at the club during an incredibly difficult part of the season to bed into.
With eight games remaining and Spurs’ lead over fifth-placed Arsenal now down to four points with one more game played, when Holtby does get his chance to restart his process of acclimatization within this league, he’s going to do so under massive pressure.
And this is something supporters most bear in mind when running the rule over their new German acquisition. Regardless of how he fares up until May, next season will be the one in which Lewis Holtby should be measured up against.