By Sebastian Garcia
With only three full seasons of professional football under his belt, you could be forgiven for thinking Erik Lamela is overpriced at the potential £30 million that Roma hope to receive. And yet his impact in Argentina and Italy has been so prodigious that the potential figure would still represent sound business.
As revealed by Goal on August 14, Tottenham made the 21-year-old their “absolute priority”, and have now wrapped up a deal worth £25.7m up front plus a further £4.2m in bonuses. It will prove to be a bargain.
So where has Lamela come from and what marks him out from his peers?
Born in Carapachay, a town a few miles north of Buenos Aires, Lamela found his way into the prestigious River Plate academy. A tug-of-war tussle between los Millonarios and Barcelona almost saw a 12-year-old Lamela pack his bags and leave for Spain, but River managed to keep hold of their young prodigy and hone his talent in-house.
Lamela made his professional debut for River as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in June 2009, just a few months after scoring an audacious rabona chip at youth level - a hint of the genius that lurked within.
His first full season with River ended with tears streaming down his face, though, as one of Argentina’s traditional powerhouses was relegated following a play-off with Belgrano. For all the skill and inventiveness the young midfielder displayed in the 34 appearances he made that year, it could not stop this giant football club suffering the ultimate humiliation.
A move to Europe beckoned, and Roma snared the then-19-year-old for £16.3m (€19m) as they embarked on a lavish new project under the ownership of Thomas DiBenedetto. While his first season was inauspicious as the Giallorossi stumbled to a 7th-place finish under Luis Enrique, he blossomed in his second.
This was partly thanks to ultra-attacking manager Zdenek Zeman's penchant for handing the likes of Lamela and Francesco Totti complete freedom in the attacking third, and partly the natural trajectory of his growth.
The Argentine notched 15 league goals in 33 appearances - hugely impressive particularly given the miserly reputation Serie A carries. This haul would have been welcome for many a wily striker, let alone a wiry, fledgling midfielder. Yet this is part of Lamela’s appeal. At 6ft tall, he is yet another member of the new breed of wide forward – fast, direct, and with an ability to win a match single-handed.
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Lamela may not be quite as quick as Ronaldo and his dribbling may not be as devastating, but he has a more creative brain, a greater understanding of the game. That one-track mind may be the source of Ronaldo’s brilliance and incredible haul of goals, but Lamela's encompassing attitude marks him as a more creative proposition.
Even if some insist Monaco winger, and fellow River graduate, Lucas Ocampos is the next Cristiano Ronaldo, the tag clearly belongs to Lamela.
His talent is finally beginning to see the sort of recognition many expected when he left for Europe. As Tottenham prise a genuine world-class prospect from Roma, Lamela is on the brink of breaking into the Argentina national team.
He has three caps to his name and, although the Albiceleste are blessed with attacking options, expect Lamela to push his way onto the plane for Brazil 2014 - he set up Gonzalo Higuain against Italy in a recent friendly.
The fact that Andre Villas-Boas - and crucially, Franco Baldini - pursued Lamela regardless of Bale’s future speaks volumes. He may be just 21 years of age, but Spurs have signed a ready-made replacement for their star winger. It is now just a matter of time before the Welshman completes his move to Real Madrid, but Spurs fans should be excited about the future with Lamela on board.