Why Erik Lamela Going to Spurs Is a Huge Loss to Roma
For Roma, Erik Lamela's departure to Tottenham is a huge loss. Or not, depending on how you look at it.
On the one hand, the Giallorossi have lost an immensely gifted young player who has been among their most consistent performers for the last two seasons.
The 21-year-old was the footballer who many in Rome felt the future of the club could be built around—the type of forward who could consistently entertain the Curva Sud and fire the Lupi to long-awaited glory at the same time.
He was the rarest of things: a possible heir to the throne of Francesco Totti.
And then he followed Franco Baldini to Spurs. It's a loss that was keenly felt by the Roma faithful here in the Italian capital. But as Walter Sabatini, the side's director of football, explained, it was a move that was out of the club's hands.
Speaking at a lengthy press conference in Rome, Sabatini went into detail about the transfer (here in Italian, via the Gazzetta dello Sport), revealing that offers from other clubs had meant the contract extension he'd been planning with the player. Lamela's advisors, Sabatini was adamant, were pushing for a move or a vast increase in wages, and the club was unwilling to enter a bidding war.
Baldini, the technical director at Tottenham, and Sabatini remain close friends, and it's no surprise the club preferred a sale to their former general manager than an unnamed Italian rival. Sabatini remains regretful that Lamela was sold, but having discovered Adem Ljajic was for sale, he quickly started getting over it.
The Serbian won't directly replace Lamela tactically, but the pair are a neat comparison because they're the same age and, in Italian football circles, as highly rated.
It's a like-for-like in potential, then, if not in position. And because his contract was nearing expiration, he came at less than half of what Sabatini got for Lamela. And it was no less an opponent than AC Milan whom he beat to the Serbian's signature.
No one on the red side of the Italian capital wanted to see Lamela leave. But fans of the Italian game will know Sabatini's name well and be well aware that this is how he tends to do business. Offers are considered, replacements discussed. The move isn't always made, but it's never dismissed out of hand.
Though the director of football role is one that's often questioned in British footballing circles, the Italian's record proves just how useful a successful one can be. Everywhere he's gone, he's unearthed talent, spent wisely and made profit.
Aleksandar Kolarov, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Josip Ilicic, Abel Hernandez and Javier Pastore are just a few of the many high-profile players he's discovered and seen go on to great things, and there are more on the way.
Last season's discovery at Roma, the Brazilian Marquinhos, was sold to Paris Saint-Germain for over €30 million, having cost just €1.5m 12 months before (values according to transfrmarket.it).
Marquinhos is a fantastic defender and a player who performed consistently in the Roma shirt with the kind of ability and maturity that belies his tender years. But regular observers of the Giallorossi could also suggest that the unique circumstances of Roma's entertaining philosophy allowed the Brazilian's pace—coupled with a youthful eagerness to impress—to make him look even better than he is.
The 19-year-old was often Roma's saviour in a topsy-turvy season, but many of his crucial contributions came simply by virtue of the fact that he was able to get back in time to make challenges, when the rest of the defensive line was undone by Zdenek Zeman's unrelenting devotion to attacking football.
Blistering pace is always a positive, but now part of a more defensively minded, solid outfit at Paris Saint-Germain, the former Corinthians man will have plenty to do to prove he was worth the massive transfer fee.
How does Roma's current squad compare to that of last year?
Roma, meanwhile, used that profit to recruit Mehdi Benatia, a 26-year-old who has come of age as a fine defender during his time at Udinese; Kevin Strootman, who will captain the Netherlands at next summer's World Cup; and Tin Jedvaj, the latest highly rated youth to come from Dinamo Zagreb's ranks.
On the face of it, that's not a bad exchange.
Lamela's sale was different. The young winger was worth more to the squad than just money. His purchase two years ago was a symbol of the new American owners' intent, and he's since become emblematic of the team's youthful potential.
Selling him, then, is equally symbolic.
No player, no matter how popular or talented, is off the market. James Pallotta and the rest of the investment group that owns Roma want a profitable, secure business above all else. They need to control wages—among the highest in the league—and direct funds toward the construction of a new stadium.
That fiscal stringency is a tough pill for the Romanisti to swallow. And one that will be coughed up pretty quickly if their team struggles in the league.
For now, the side effects haven't been as violent as they might have been. Ljajic scored on his debut, and Rudi Garcia's side looks more balanced than the Giallorossi have at any time in the last two seasons.
Ljajic is not the same kind of footballer as Lamela. He prefers to play more centrally, and though he's not short of pace, he won't want to be imitating the Argentine's electric runs down the flank. But Roma have changed, and it's possible that Lamela's qualities won't be missed as much as a result.
For one, the midfield is a lot more balanced. Daniele De Rossi looks more settled, and with Strootman and Miralem Pjanic alongside him, Roma have as potent, intelligent, energetic and balanced a midfield three as you could ask for.
Up front, Totti continues to surprise and delight in equal measure. A new contract is on the way that should see him lead the Lupi until he turns 40, and with the form he showed last term, it's an extension that looks more sensible than sentimental.
Mattia Destro is yet to deliver consistently on his huge promise, but both Roma and the Italian national side have every confidence in the injured striker. And while Marco Borriello was not a player Sabatini hoped to have on the books after deadline day, the veteran is a worker and he'll do his best when called upon.
There's hope that young Gianluca Caprari will get game time this season, too, and if he does he could join Totti and Alessandro Florenzi in an all-Roman front line. That in itself is an exciting thought.
So Gervinho is the only obvious doubt. Is he the Arsenal flop or the fine wide forward we saw during his spell under Garcia at Lille?
He was unfortunate to arrive at the same time as Lamela's move gathered pace. He plays wide like the Argentine and was clumsily labelled a replacement. He wasn't meant as such. No one was.
That's a point that hints at another side to this all—though one less openly discussed in Rome—which is this: For all Lamela's technique and trickery, Roma were still an unbalanced, unsuccessful side last year. Talented or not, he couldn't help them finish higher than a miserable sixth.
Just like Marquinhos, Lamela was a singular talent, sacrificed for the theoretical good of the unit. Roma are down one outstanding young defender, but have bought several excellent players to strengthen the squad. They've lost one of the game's most exciting young attackers, but in doing so been able to balance the books—and possibly produce a more balanced side at the same time.
Gervinho is nowhere near the quality of Lamela. He doesn't exude the same Latin flair, clinical eye for goal or blistering turn of pace that inspired Roma last year. But if he's a functional cog inside a well-oiled, properly-constructed machine, he won't have to.
The thinking is clear. Whether or not it can be successfully executed, less so.
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