A.S. Roma finished the 2012-13 season in a disappointing sixth position in the Serie A. The Giallorossis had their season shared between two managers, who tried their best to banish the bad memories of Luis Enrique’s reign the previous season. Both Zdenek Zeman and Andreazzoli failed to propel the Romans to Champions League football. However, by the end of the season, the silver lining under the dark cloud in Italy’s capital city was a 21-year old Argentine midfielder.
Erik Lamela has spent two seasons with Roma, having signed from River Plate in 2011 and is already being touted as a successor to Roma captain and legend Francesco Totti. Playing on the right of Roma’s front three under Zeman and in a slightly withdrawn role as a right sided attacker, Lamela chalked up 15 goals for the season, one short of Roma’s top scorer – striker Pablo Osvaldo. Whatever complaints must have been made about the squad or the manager, Lamela has become the darling of the Giallorossi fans.
Born on 4 March 1992, Lamela joined the historic Argentine club River Plate in 2009. Like most Argentine boys, Lamela was eager to carve his name alongside Argentina’s best. He was spotted young and at the ripe age of 17, made his debut for River Plate as a midfielder against Tigre in the 2009 Clausura – Argentina’s premier division. While Lamela’s skill and talent was observed at once, he did not break into the first team for two seasons. It was only in the 2010-11 season that Lamela stamped his authority over the River Plate midfield, turning out 34 times that season. Helping River Plate finish sixth that season, Lamela scored 4 goals along the way. Roma came calling and Lamela began his European adventure in Serie A.
In The Big Time
Erik Lamela was unveiled at the Stadio Olimpico after Roma bought him for a fee of €12 million. He was thrust into action in his first season for Roma as he played 29 games, having started 23 of these. Lamela scored 4 goals that season as he eased into life in Italy. His pedigree was beyond question though, with the Roma fans delighted by their new signings skill and vision.
Lamela’s zenith in a Roma shirt was his 2012-13 season, where he scored 15 goals in 33 appearances, drawing comparisons to his captain Francesco Totti and seen as the future of the club. As his stock rises, Lamela is being linked with several big clubs across Europe, along with the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool. THT looks at what makes Lamela tick and what the future holds for this highly rated youngster
Lamela The Passer
Erik Lamela is a midfielder by trade. It follows that his passing therefore, is right up there with the best. Playing the 2012-13 season in a right sided attacking role, Lamela, known for his ability to thread through balls, had a passing success percentage of 81.9%, with just under 2 key passes per game that resulted in goals or a goal scoring opportunity. This coming from a player, whose position is that of an attacker, shows Lamela’s propensity for creating goalscoring chances for his teammates. Lamela contributed with 5 assists for the season. He was given a free role to operate under Zdenek Zeman’s attacking 4-3-3 formation. Even though he started the games on the right side of the three pronged attack, Lamela was often seen moving to the left flank and operating from there. A natural left footed player, Lamela thrived in this free role and scored a majority of his 15 goals from the left. His movement and passing was pivotal in Roma’s possession play and Lamela exploited his free role well to swap positions with Totti on the left as well as to drift in towards the centre.
Lamela’s midfield play became all the more critical under Andreazzoli, who preferred a more compact 3-4-2-1 formation, with Lamela more withdrawn on the right than Totti, his counterpart on the left. From this deeper role, Lamela’s passing was more crucial, he got involved in the build up more often and his movement was much more disciplined on the right. His passing ability was brought out well in this formation and showed the vision and passing range that he was gifted with.
Lamela The Attacker
Erik Lamela has made his role as an attacker more coveted than his starting position as a midfielder at River Plate. This is the kind of change that a move across continents brings to a young player like Lamela. Having been restricted to his midfield role in Argentina, Lamela’s obvious strength in dribbling was noticed by the Roma coaching staff. Lamela’s own footballing nous was developed further by this change in position and his knowledge as a footballer has been growing since. Dribbling is arguably the best trait that the 21-year old possesses. It was therefore a fairly straightforward move to accommodate him as a right forward in Zeman’s fluent formation.
Being one of the players always looking to beat opposition defenders with flair and superior technique, Lamela excited the Roma fans with his superb runs and dribbles. Statistically, Zeman could claim to have used Lamela in his best position yet. The Argentine had 2.6 shots per game, which was the third highest in the team and his shots on target conversion rate of 43% displayed his ability to beat the keeper almost half the times that his shot was on target. Lamela’s finishing is another strong point. 14 of his 15 Serie A goals were scored from inside the box. The moniker “fox in the box” certainly fits Lamela’s style of play despite not being a striker.
Lamela has scored all kinds of goals from within the box, but one of the key aspects of his game is his link up play with the other attackers – Osvaldo and Totti. There was a particularly beautiful attacking move against Atalanta, which was started and finished off by Lamela after being teed up by Totti with a lovely dink over the defenders. Lamela’s cool finish gave Roma the only goal of the game early on in the season. This goal is a prime example of Lamela’s transition from midfielder to attacker par excellence. Creating the move, having the presence of mind to run into space, receive Totti’s dink and slip it past the keeper while keeping his balance, Erik Lamela showcased early on in the season what was to be expected of him. Another example of his flair was his first goal in the loss to Udinese, when he started the move and having retrieved the ball in the box on the right side, Lamela jinked two defenders before faking a shot, sending the keeper the wrong way and cleverly lifting the ball past him and around the post from a very acute angle. Moments like these make the Roma faithful see in him the future of their club – perhaps as a talisman!
Attacking Positioning: 8/10
Lamela The Learner
The past season was Erik Lamela’s best so far. Scoring goals, creating chances, taking on defenders and dribbling past them, Lamela has proved to be an exciting prospect in the years to come. However, like any other young player, there is scope for improvement. Lamela often disappoints with his flair. His strongest point in his gameplay often proves to be his bane. Lamela has often relied too much on his dribbles and tricks to get past defenders; even when a simple pass would’ve proved more effective. He needs to learn that while tricks have their place in football, teamwork and passing are more effective in the long run.
With old warriors like Totti in the team however, 21-year old Lamela is sure to learn and master the finer nuances of playmaking and attacking. If Roma are to hang on to their star for a couple of seasons, Roma is sure to surge ahead in Serie A and close in on the bigger teams on the European stage.
Erik Lamela looks set to be the next big thing in Serie A and the Argentine national team. With boots like Totti’s and Messi’s to fill in the future, Lamela sure has his work cut out, but there is no denying the abundance of talent present in the young prodigy.