West Ham playmaker Manuel Lanzini marks his 24th birthday today, and it is birthday that he could look back on with fond memories as he stands at a key moment in his footballing career.
The Argentine has impressed ever since he joined West Ham, initially on loan, in 2015, making his move permanent in 2016.
However, he has never been as crucial to the side as now, in the wake of the departure of Dimitri Payet.
The Frenchman leaving the club is something no Hammers fan will have initially seen coming or wanted, however, his departure seems to have kicked the side into a new vein of form and, if anything, makes Slaven Bilic’s side far more unpredictable going forward.
Lanizini has always been an important part of Bilic’s plans, however, has until now been somewhat overshadowed by the tactics of Payet.
With the playmaker and creative outlet in east London gone, someone needed to step into his shoes. Whilst the addition of Robert Snodgrass brings another set-piece specialist and a masterful crosser of the ball into the club, he still lacks that special something.
In Saturday’s 2-2 draw with West Brom, however, Lanzini stepped up to the plate and teased the Baggies back line throughout.
The elusive number 10 gave his side the lead when he rattled a 25 yard shot into the bottom right corner, seemingly out of nowhere, but offered a lot more than a show-stopper of a goal on the day.
His link up play with the likes of Snodgrass and Michail Antonio around him, as well as summer signing Sofiane Feghouli, who had one of his best games in a claret and blue shirt, was outstanding and he was the driving force for Bilic throughout the second half, keeping Tony Pulis’ men guessing at every turn.
The former River Plate man can continue to play with the freedom knowing that, unlike his French predecessor, no one expects something awe inspiring from his every touch and that, whilst he may be the most creative man going forward, not every single move will have to pass through him.
While Payet is a remarkable talent and incomparable to any other in the Premier League, thus you would imagine irreplaceable, as Lanzini enters what could be the best years of his career he has the chance to go on and make the role of star man his own as the Hammers look to drive their way back into Europe to really kick start their new era.