Manuel Lanzini burst onto the scene as a 22-year old during West Ham’s outstanding 2015/16 campaign, combining with the extraordinary Dimitri Payet to propel the Hammers to a seventh-place finish in their last season at Upton Park.
The Argentinian attacking midfielder, who was then on loan from Abu Dhabi-based Al-Jazira, scored 8 goals and contributed 4 assists that season and after a £10.8 million summer move to West Ham on the back of his breakthrough season, Lanzini looked set to be the poster boy of West Ham’s exciting new era at Stratford’s Olympic Stadium.
However, his inconsistent form and injury woes since mirror the underwhelming four seasons that West Ham have spent at the London Stadium and he is now seemingly surplus to requirements with West Ham manager, David Moyes looking to fund a move for QPR’s Eberechi Eze through the cut-price sale of Lanzini.
It is common knowledge that the biggest rivalry in world football is between the two biggest clubs in Argentina: Boca Juniors and River Plate. Therefore when Ramón Maddoni, a famous Boca scout who had previously discovered the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Esteban Cambiasso and Carlos Tevez, approached a youthful Manuel Lanzini for trials at Boca Juniors following some positive displays for Kaly de Ituzaingó in the indoor football divisions, it is no surprise that Lanzini turned him down as a result of his status as a River Plate fan.
A few years later, Lanzini was recognised by River Plate and signed. He went on to perform highly for the junior side and earned his place in the first team by 2010. Injury somewhat plagued his first season for River and the fact that a 17-year old of such small stature was starting for the first team under Ángel Cappa was questioned by the Argentine media. At the beginning of the season he had shown touches of class and he proved to be one of River’s youngest ever players at 17 years and 5 months old though.
At the end of the 2010/11 season, Lanzini was loaned out to Fluminense with a purchase option of €15 million. He impressed heavily and then club president Peter Siemsen labelled him the “new Neymar,” but the Brazilian outfit weren’t able to land him on a permanent basis, causing him to return to Buenos Aires for the 2012/13 season.
The 5”6 Argentine looked set to impress River’s passionate crowds upon his return and the manager, Matías Almeyda granted him the famous number 10 shirt. However, he was mostly used off the bench and it was only when Almeyda was sacked and replaced by Ramón Díaz that Lanzini got a real chance.
He went on to score the fastest Superclásico goal of all time after he nodded in Carlos Sánchez’s cross after 43 seconds in River’s 1-1 draw with Boca. River fans then nicknamed him La Joya (The Jewell) and he went on to be used regularly by Díaz for the remainder of the season.
Lanzini continued his development in Argentina and turned down offers from the United Arab Emirates-based Baniyas upon his father’s insistence that his mind should be on footballing gain rather than financial gain. However, after a fairly average 2013/14 season River accepted a $6 million fee (rising to $12 million after 3 years) for Lanzini from Al-Jazira over fears of his worth stagnating.
At 21 years of age, Lanzini became the youngest foreign player to ever play in the UAE Gulf League and he racked up an impressive 8 goals and 11 assists in 24 appearances in his only season at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium. Despite making the move to the Middle East, which many may have deemed unwise for the prospect of a future career in Europe, La Joya caught the eye of the newly appointed West Ham boss Slaven Bilić in the summer of 2015.
Photo: Ravidranath K / The National
The Hammers went on to sign the Argentinian on a season long loan and from the offset he impressed. On 29th August 2015, he stole the show in an impressive 3-0 West Ham victory at Anfield. The 22-year old toyed with Liverpool’s slow defence, scoring one and setting up another for Mark Noble sending the surprised but delirious away end, who hadn’t even heard of the Argentine before his move to East London, into raptures.
Although Dimitri Payet was the star, Lanzini proved to be a key part of West Ham’s impressive last season at Upton Park and he scored one of the goals of the season away at Chelsea to earn the Hammers a point while he picked up a crucial assist in West Ham’s last game at the Boleyn in the 3-2 win over Manchester United.
Like Payet, he had a certain cockiness to his game that season and his dribbling ability was frightening and unique and he certainly lifted every West Ham fan off of their seat when on the ball. His partnership with Payet involved the two often interchanging positions between the left wing and attacking midfield spot giving West Ham a creative spark that had so often lacked in previous season’s. That season, Lanzini scored 8 goals and gained 4 assists as the Hammers made it into the Europa League qualifiers.
Lanzini’s positive form did continue into the 2016/17 season after West Ham signed him for £10.8 million and his partnership with Payet was ever present in the first half of the campaign. The Hammers were struggling though and the season was overshadowed by Payet’s desire to return to France and consequent £25 million sale to Marseille which left a irreplaceable void in the heart of the team.
Bilić, several pundits and the Hammers faithful, all expected Lanzini to step up and become West Ham’s main man but other than some important goals against Crystal Palace and Tottenham, the little Argentine was notably quieter than he had been previously and was often muscled off the ball.
However, Lanzini’s 2016/17 campaign wasn’t a total disaster and he racked up 8 goals and 2 assists but his weaknesses were becoming ever clearer now Payet wasn’t there to support him. He still clearly had a very high ceiling though and this was recognised by strong interest from Liverpool who were looking to bring him in as a possible Philippe Coutinho replacement for around £40 million.
However, Coutinho stayed in Merseyside for a further six months meaning Lanzini stayed in East London. As a result of his growing status, Lanzini was called up to the Argentina squad by Jorge Sampaoli in May 2017 for the first time. He made his first appearance for La Albiceleste in their 1-0 over Brazil in Melbourne.
Lanzini entered the 2017/18 in positive spirits and often declared his love for both West Ham and London in interviews. However, West Ham continued to perform badly in their new 57,000-seater stadium and Lanzini’s first goal of the season came in a 4-1 home loss to Liverpool in November which marked the end of Bilić’s reign at the club.
He sometimes showed flashes of brilliance, as shown by his 2 impressive goals against Huddersfield Town in a 4-1 win over the Terriers at the beginning of Moyes’s 6-month stint at the club, but he was inconsistent and often went missing in games when the Hammers needed him the most.
Nevertheless, Lanzini was clearly a very decent mid-table Premier League player at this stage, and when on form he combined nicely with the eccentric Marko Arnautović and he gained an impressive career high of 9 assists in the 2017/18 season. His season ended very brightly when he curled two past Everton’s Jordan Pickford on the last day of the season and he was called up to Sampaoli’s 2018 World Cup side.
However, Lanzini’s career took a severe downturn when he ruptured his anterior knee ligament in a training session with Argentina a few weeks before the World Cup, ruling him out of the tournament and a large majority of the 2018/19 season. West Ham signed Felipe Anderson from Lazio for a club record £40 million and the Hammers finished 10th without the Argentinian who only played a bit part role upon his return in March 2019.
When he returned, Lanzini looked slow, fragile and nervous to take on opponents which many fans saw as the result of his hideous injury. He therefore made just 10 appearances and looked a shadow of his 2017/18 self, let alone the player who had wowed East Londoners in the 2015/16 season.
Therefore, West Ham signed a younger attacking midfielder in Pablo Fornals for £25 million at the end of the 2018/19 season which forced Lanzini onto the bench. Under Manuel Pellegrini for the first half of the season, he appeared regularly off the bench and sometimes started games but after Pellegrini’s sacking in late December, Lanzini struggled for game time and he was an unused substitute in 8 of Moyes’s 19 games and was neglected heavily in the midst of West Ham’s relegation fight showing that he is no longer valued.
Lanzini is now 27 although it looks as if he is already past the peak of his powers. It is clear that he needs a move away from London and a transfer to either Italy or Spain could reignite his career. His decline has been saddening and is highlighted by his passes per game, goals, assists, pass completion and shots per game dropping dramatically (e.g. in 2017/18 he completed 47 passes a game, this season he averaged just 32).
Moyes clearly wants to bring in QPR’s Eze to replace Lanzini who certainly looks like the superior player and while Lanzini once looked like a star, he now plays a bit part role at one of the most depleted West Ham sides of the last few years.
While he burst onto the scene as a 17-year old at River Plate and stunned the Premier League in his opening season, Lanzini has declined rapidly since and looks a shadow of his former self. Nevertheless, West Ham fans will never forget his ability to glide past defenders and deliver magic at whim — and he will be remembered as one of the most talented playmakers to grace Upton Park.
By: George Grieve
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Griffiths / Getty Images