Erik Lamela: The Magician To Transform Tottenham's Midfield...
The story goes that on the first day Erik Lamela arrived at training for AS Roma he immediately got involved in a game of head tennis with the old guard of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Rodrigo Taddei.
What followed was an amazing display of skill from the new boy that had resident keepy-up king Taddei swooning with delight while Totti and Taddei gave the youngster the ultimate Roman show of admiration - Ammazza - basically whoa!
He won over the Roma fans in equally quick time with a wonderfully-taken curling effort against Palermo eight minutes into his debut. That was back at the start of last season and at just 19, Lamela was being rightly hailed as the brightest talent coming out of Argentina after leaving relegated River Plate for life in Serie A.
Now on his third coach - Aurelio Andreazzoli - after a first-season under Luis Enrique and just over half a campaign with Zdenek Zeman, Lamela has never allowed his form to dip in a side that has failed to live up to expectations as genuine title contenders - and until he picked up an ankle injury in early November he had netted eight goals which included the impressive statistic of seven in six games.
A return to action just before the winter was celebrated with a brace against AC Milan but as Zeman’s all-out attacking approach faltered at the turn of the year, so Lamela and the rest of the team suffered.
However, under the highly-respected Andreazzoli, Lamela has found a new lease of life playing through the middle where head up, his pace and close control can take him quickly into the opposition final third as he showed in the recent morale-boosting win over Juventus.
Employed on the right by both Enrique and Zeman although he is exclusively left-footed, the tall, rangy youngster tended to drift in and out of matches; when constantly fed the ball he would taunt his marker to distraction but when the service dried up he would then disappear to the fringes of the action.
Zeman had been impressed with his stamina in pre-season training where he was first in every distance race but there was no room for him to run free through the middle in the veteran tactician’s strict adherence to 4-3-3.
With Andreazzoli stepping up from the coaching ranks to be given the top job until to the end of the season, Lamela have been handed that freedom to operate right across the pitch and combine with the equally-gifted Miralem Pjanic and of course Totti who has led by example through the tough times, demonstrating that only hard graft can overcome periods of low confidence.
Lamela has learnt from the old master and where once there was a certain petulance to his game especially when with his run-in with the other Argentina star of the side, Pablo Osvaldo, who reportedly slapped the youngster after an open and frank exchange of views over which of them was the greedier on the ball, there has been an enormous leap in maturity.
Now 20, the slick one-touch passes and step-overs have been augmented by an awareness of the positioning of his team-mates which has greatly improved his on-pitch relationship with Osvaldo.
Totti has continued to school the pupil in the art of creating space out of nothing and has never once discouraged the protégé from his chosen path of displaying his natural talent to the full.
Andreazzoli has also taken a personal interest in Lamela’s development as he once did with the immensely skillful Taddei who named his outrageous drag-back in a Champions League match against Olympiakos “The Aurelio” in honour of his tutor.
From what we have seen in a season and a half in the Capital, it is no wonder that Tottenham have bought him to replace Bale.