Manuel Lanzini, Ezequiel Cirgliano, Roberto Pereyra and Gabriel Funes Mori have all made a splash in the first team over the past 12 months, but no one has captured the imagination of the Millo faithful as much as 19-year-old number 10 and attacking sensation Erik Lamela.
Inevitably his excellent performances have attracted attention from overseas, with Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Milan, as well as some English giants, all linked with the player in recent months - although River president Daniel Passarella is determined to hold on to his most prized gems.
A veteran of only around 30 professional games in Argentina, 'Coco' remains an unknown quantity for many fans across the world. So, fans of Atleti, Lazio and Milan, Goal.com would like to introduce you to one of the Albiceleste's most promising young athletes, and a name which you could be hearing a lot more in the not too distant future.
|SNAPSHOT | Erik Lamela (River Plate)
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In five words: Not your average Argentine playmaker
Erik Manuel Lamela was born on March 4, 1992 in the northern Buenos Aires suburb of Florida. The area has quite a reputation for creating forward stars: Hernan Crespo was born in the River-mad barrio, while David Trezeguet spent his infancy there and played for local team Platense before moving back to France as an 18-year-old.
Looking to follow in these illustrious footsteps, the young Lamela was a star in the Millo academy almost before he had even hit puberty, and the club had to fight tooth and nail to stop him moving to Barcelona in 2004 at the age of 12. Father Jose wished to move Erik and his family - mother Miriam, and brothers Axel and Brian - to Spain and transfer Erik to Barca, but the then River president Jose Maria Aguilar intervened with a lucrative offer and the Lamelas stayed put in Buenos Aires.
After impressing in the youth divisions, former Xerez coach Nestor Gorosito gave 'Coco' his first team break at the end of the 2009 Clausura, at the tender age of 17. Lamela came on for Roberto Flores with 10 minutes left of a game against Tigre, and helped his team secure a 3-1 victory.
Naturally best as a left-sided midfielder or enganche, Lamela played more and more often in the River team until finally becoming a regular starter under Angel Cappa and then Juan Jose Lopez in the 2010 Apertura.
The player really came to the forefront however in the team's 1-0 Superclasico victory over Boca Juniors, where in a tepid match the lanky teen was the stand out talent. Since that game he has barely missed a match for his team, and was rewarded at the start of 2011 with the number 10 jersey when club legend Ariel Ortega was farmed out to All Boys.
Surprisingly he has never represented Argentina at junior level, but not for any oversight on the Albiceleste's part. 'Coco' was much sought after by the under-20s for February's South American Championship, but along with Manuel Lanzini and Roberto Pereyra was deemed too important to River's Clausura preparations to be released. Despite these withdrawals, the team which finished third in Peru still contained no less than six Millo starlets.
|ERIK LAMELA IN 2011
|Clausura 2011 Appearances
Lamela's strengths as a player include an excellent turn of pace and ease on the ball which, despite being much taller than the archetypal Argentine number 10, allows him to glide past defenders like a gazelle. Certain comparisons can be made with Angel di Maria in the way he likes to attack from out wide, but the young Lamela has already shown that the lapses in judgement which sometimes blight 'Fideo' are not an issue in the heat of the moment.
As far as weaknesses go there are not too many to mention; although up until recently the gangly teenager was thought of as a light touch physically, with his height and slim frame marking him out as a target for uncompromising defenders. This was compunded by a massive growth spurt in his teenage years, which left him 5'11" tall and affected his balance and coordination for a spell.
The player however has worked extensively on improving his strength and build, a process of course aided by his natural development. This was demonstrated by Ole in the summer break, as they published a picture of a skinny, gauche teenager in 2010 compared to the well-built, filled-out 2011 version.
With the player in excellent form in 2011, the big concern for the Millo is how to keep their gem in Argentina. Teams from across Europe have already shown interest in the youngster, with the most persistent enquiries coming from Atletico Madrid and Lazio, neither club being strangers to signing young Argentine talent.
Whoever takes his signature however will have to pay dearly. In the face of constant speculation the 'Kaiser' Passarella has been in a familar unbending mood, and refused to budge on a minimum transfer fee of €20 million for any potential suitors. If 'Coco' continues on his present trajectory however, even this figure may start to appear a bargain for some of Europe's big guns.