Even in the Eternal City in which political and religious leaders reside, Roma captain Francesco Totti’s declarations are still taken as gospel by the giallorosso side of the capital. “I hope [Erik] Lamela will be my heir,” confessed the legendary playmaker during the Argentine youngster’s debut season in Italy. The remark is poignant now that the club is on the verge of losing the winger to Tottenham Hotspur.
Roma director of sport Walter Sabatini employed his extensive contacts in South America to orchestrate Lamela’s transfer from a relegated River Plate in the summer of 2011 for £15m including bonuses.
‘Coco’ was renowned for his electrifying pace and dribbling abilities in Buenos Aires long before the Italian outfit secured his signature, however. He featured extensively in the local media as a teenager while in the Millonarios academy and sporting a blonde ponytail. The gifted winger made his first appearance for the Argentine national team in May before making the switch to the peninsula in August.
Lamela initially suffered under Luis Enrique as the Spanish tactician attempted to impose a ‘tiki-taka’ style after transitioning from Barcelona B coach to Roma manager. The forward was unable to execute his famed darting runs suited to a more counter-attacking formation then the possession-based football being employed at the time. He was also at the centre of several unsavoury incidents - including a dressing room punch-up with teammate Pablo Osvaldo after playing Udinese in November before being banned for three matches in late April for spitting at Juventus wing-back Stephan Lichtsteiner during a game.
The Argentine managed six goals from a wide position as Roma concluded the campaign without qualification for either European competition. Enrique was ultimately sacked as eccentric Czech journeyman Zdeněk Zeman returned to the club over 20 years since he last held the managerial position.
Lamela flourished in Zeman’s storied all-out attacking approach. Before the winter break, he scored in six successive matches and was agonisingly close to surpassing Rodolfo Volk’s record for netting in straight games for the Giallorossi. In an attacking trident alongside Totti and Osvaldo, defences simply could not handle his combination of flash trickery and potent finishing.
Zeman’s stubborn nature ultimately led to his own downfall. The controversial boss insisted on an unstable formation and was unwilling to adapt in order to sort out a substandard defence before being dismissed in February. Assistant Aurelio Andreazzoli brought much needed stability but his reign was untenable after an embarrassing Coppa Italia final defeat to bitter city rivals Lazio in May.
Rudi Garcia was handpicked from Lille as a manager capable of achieving results while also establishing an identity off the back of two years of controversial transitional seasons under Enrique and Zeman since the club was purchased by American Thomas Di Benedetto in 2011.
This transfer window has seen a host of notable starters depart such as Marquinhos to Paris Saint-Germain for over £30m and Southampton swooping for Osvaldo in a £12m deal in a calculated bid to balance the books as the preceding windows had seen extensive signings. The auctions are not yet over in spite of passionate supporters voicing their outrage at the exodus.
Bosnian playmaker Miralem Pjanić was originally seen as an asset worth cashing in on, but Garcia has since handed him the keys to midfield alongside new arrival Kevin Strootman. Even club icon Daniele De Rossi was reportedly transfer listed to his own surprise before declaring his will to stay. In the end, interest in Lamela was substantial and a decision was made to look for a potential transfer.
Spurs technical director Franco Baldini capitalised on the situation at his former team and used his inside knowledge to get closer to the Argentine winger. According to Sky Italia, his representative Pablo Sabbag has been in London for the past several days to iron out the details on a £25m bid with an additional £5m in bonuses. The player himself is said to favour a switch to the Premier League, and judging by several comments from his partner and brother over Twitter the move will go through.
Much has been made of Chelsea hijacking Tottenham’s move for William from Anzhi Makhachkala. The Brazilian is a similar player to Lamela but the fundamental difference being that he is primarily a creative outlet while the 21-year-old guarantees goals – consequently a superior fit to fill the void Gareth Bale will leave once his highly anticipated transfer to Real Madrid is completed.
Roma have already lined up Lamela’s replacement in exciting Fiorentina man Adem Ljajić. Gazzetta dello Sport report that the Serbian will undergo a medical tomorrow, and his arrival should appease fans for the time being, but serious questions will be asked of club president James Pallotta’s ambition to compete with the heavy hitters in Serie A.
Totti shocked the Italian media by claiming current Roma jersey “will be my last” during the outfit’s shirt presentation in July. The general consensus remains the captain is merely angling for a contract extension with the remark, but his wish to see Lamela replace him at the Stadio Olimpico appears to have been short-lived.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies