Roma's Erik Lamela: Why Manchester United Want to Sign Argentina's Latest Star

Colin O'BrienContributor IApril 23, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - APRIL 17:  Erik Lamela of AS Roma in action during the TIM Cup semifinal match between  FC Internazionale Milano and AS Roma at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on April 17, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Walter Sabatini knows how to pick them. During his time at Lazio, Perugia and Palermo the former midfielder was responsible for discovering and working with a staggering array of talent. 

Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Aleksandar Kolarov, Valon Behrami, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Abel Hernandez, Josip Ilicic, Javier Pastore, Hernanes—all have Sabatini to thank in some way for their careers. 

Now, he's plying his trade at AS Roma. And the early signs are promising. Though the Giallorossi have had a disappointing campaign, in the last two seasons they've been transformed from the league's oldest squad into one of its youngest and most exciting. And without breaking the bank, either. 

Sabatini is known for being a shrewd judge of young talent and with an experienced scouting network in South America as well as a good eye for a bargain, Roma's director of football has been able to significantly improve the Lupi's prospects while also ensuring that the next generation from the club's excellent youth system get a look-in. 

Of all the new faces in the Italian capital, none have impressed more than Argentina's Erik Lamela. 

The 21-year-old from Buenos Aires had a solid if unspectacular start to life in Rome last season under Luis Enrique.

Six goals and six assists in all competitions hinted at promise, but his form was inconsistent and he didn't look like the finished article. This year, however, he's become a reliable game-changer for Roma and one of Serie A's most admired players. 

First under Zdenek Zeman and now Aurelio Andreazzoli, Lamela has developed into a constant threat for the Giallorossi. An intoxicating blend of pace, control, intelligence and creativity, the former River Plate star has averaged a goal every two games for Roma this season—a fine return for a winger/wide forward. 

Lamela's ability to link the midfield and the forward line—not to mention the fact that he's astute and capable enough to have developed a fine rapport with club legend Francesco Totti—have made him a vital cog in the machine for the Stadio Olimpico outfit. 

Unsurprisingly, this hasn't gone unnoticed. Manchester United aren't the only ones looking, either. Roberto Mancini's City are said to be interested with Spanish giants Real Madrid also keeping an eye on the Argentinian, via The Express.

Lamela would provide Sir Alex Ferguson with much-needed width, especially if the out-of-favour Nani, heads to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. Unlike Nani or Antonio Valencia—who has been in poor form—Lamela offers more than just pace on the wing.

He's been used as an inside forward and an attacking midfielder in the past, and though he certainly thrives in exposed space on the flanks, the Argentinian's flexibility would be a major asset. 

It remains to be seen how much Europe's elite clubs are willing to invest in the prospect, who is still tied to the Romans until 2016. Lamela and the club have both found each other at the perfect moment, and it's unclear if the winger would see as much attention or game time elsewhere on the continent. 

A stay in the Eternal City would likely be good for the player, who would have the chance to develop at the same pace of the new, American-funded Roma project. He'll be wary of the fact that at such a young age, many big money moves have gone poorly in the past. 

Roma are hopeful that they can hold on to the young forward, but with such interest his agent is obviously playing hardball. "I did not set any appointment with Sabatini," said Pablo Sabbag recently, "And I do not think at this time that I will meet him soon."

This one could be one of the summer's big transfer sagas.