Emanuel Mammana has always had to grow up quickly.
A precocious talent who would progress through the youth ranks of local giants River Plate, the Argentinian followed in the footsteps of one of his idols when he became the only player, other than Javier Mascherano, to make a senior debut for Argentina before even having kicked a ball at senior level for his club.
“I thought it was a joke,” he told La Nacion. “They told me that I was going to get called and it took another 10 minutes before [Alejandro] Sabella called me. I didn’t know what to say.”
The pressure would have been crippling for some, as would going straight into the first team of one of the world’s biggest clubs, and then leaving your homeland for a big-money move to Europe having barely left your teens.
But for Mammana, even leaving the club he’d called home, the people he’d called family, was incomparable to the challenges he’d already overcome.
Mammana lost his mother when he just six years old. By the time of his 16th birthday, he’d lost his father, too.
Thankfully, the teenager found a support network all around, without which he admits he could have been lost.
"Finding someone to be with me everywhere, like my girlfriend and her father, really helped me. I was in a bad way when I lost my father, they made me move forward because I did not want to do anything anymore,” he admitted in 2015.
"Since I lost my family, River became my second home, because I was staying in the boarding house when that happened to me. The club really helped me a lot, I was supported by the people there, the coach and everyone else.”
Selected as one of Goal’s 50 Rising Stars of FUT, Mammana quickly made a name for himself at home and before long was a regular at el Monumental, fast-tracked into the River first team by new coach Marcelo Gallardo, who would lead the club to the most successful couple of years in their great history.
Mammana started in the decisive second-leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional in 2014, at 18, becoming the club’s youngster-ever player to play a major final as River ended a near two-decade wait for continental glory.
His performances had turned heads in Europe and in July 2016 he sealed a €7.5 million switch to Lyon, amid reported interest from Arsenal and Tottenham. And he returned to action for OL this weekend after being out of action since April 13 when he picked up a knee injury in Lyon’s UEFA Europa League clash with Besiktas.
The 21-year-old made his 17th start of the season as Lyon saw off Nantes 3-2. Mammana has impressed all campaign, averaging over five clearances per game and winning over 70% of his tackles. He's also committed less than one foul per game and has only collected three bookings.
Mammana has taken to a new league and a new country without missing a beat. Mature beyond his years, Valencia are among a host of clubs to have sent scouts to watch him this season. The youngster is growing with every passing Ligue 1 outing, and it’s no surprise he’s risen to the challenge so quickly.