Pitchside Europe

Lamela evokes memories of Roma greats


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French philosophy, in particular the work of Rene Descartes, is unlikely to have had any great appeal to the Roma legend Rodolfo Volk.

"I think therefore I am" isn't how he approached football. "I don't think," he said. "I shoot." And Volk rarely missed, scoring 103 goals in 157 games for the club. He was one of the great strikers of the Fascist era in Italy and joined Roma soon after their formation in 1927. 'Sciabbolone' as Volk became known or 'the Big Sabre' was one of the club's pioneers. Left foot. Right foot. He slashed away as Roma broke new ground.

Volk scored the first goal at Roma's first home, Campo Testaccio. He scored the first derby goal ever against Lazio too and in 1931 became the first Roma player to finish Capocannoniere in Serie A. Is it any wonder his name, distorted as 'Vorche', a 'magician at scoring' is still sung to this day at the Stadio Olimpico as the ultras lend their voices to the popular old Campo Testaccio song? Volk scored 29 goals in that 1930-31 season and it included a club record run of finding the back of the net seven games in a row.

His name has been back in the headlines in the past week or so. Why? Because after more than 80 years Volk's record has come under serious threat. Erik Lamela went into Monday night's game against Torino at the Olimpico having found the net in each of his last six appearances for Roma. No one had come as close to matching Volk before. His great rival, Enrique Guaita, remembered as the Black Pirate, struck on five successive occasions in the early '30s. So too, much later, did Abel Balbo and Francesco Totti.

Would Lamela manage to go where no Roma player other than Volk had gone before?

Unfortunately, he fell just short. Roma overcame Torino 2-0. They did so, however, not through Lamela, but with a controversial penalty from Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and a wildly deflected shot from Miralem Pjanic. That his streak was brought to an end should not detract from the progress he has made as a player this season. Lamela has come on leaps and bounds particularly in the consistency of his performances.

Signed from River Plate over a year ago following the trauma of their first ever relegation, a lot was expected of him. Much of that was down to the fee - thought to be €12m, rising to €20m - and the hype that accompanied it. Roma supporters had heard so much about Lamela. They learned how Barcelona had approached his father and requested that he join La Masia after an impressive showing at a youth tournament in Spain where he scored five goals in a single game. Lamela was 12 at the time. He could have followed in the footsteps of Lionel Messi. He instead chose to remain in Argentina because he didn't feel ready to leave.

"I was too little to experience what I am experiencing now," Lamela recalled. "It was complicated. So I stayed with River's kids and my father stayed in the family bakery... I'd finish playing football and run inside to see him. He didn't want me to put my hands in the flour. He said it was dangerous. The bakery is full of machines."

It called to mind the childhood of a Roma all-time great, a member of their first ever Scudetto-winning side in 1941, Amadeo Amadei, a local boy and fans' favourite, who everyone referred to as "Er Fornaretto", the little baker or baker's son, who, as a boy, used to deliver bread on his bicycle. The portents, it seemed, were good. Everything appeared to indicate that Lamela was destined for great things.

But an ankle injury meant he missed the beginning of last season. Roma fans had to wait until late October to see Lamela make his first competitive appearance in the giallorosso shirt. He didn't disappoint. With a wonderfully curling shot from outside the box, Lamela opened his account at home to Palermo just seven minutes into his Roma career. In doing so, he joined Pedro Manfredini, Pierino Prati and Roberto Pruzzo in a remarkably small club of players to score on their competitive debut for Roma. "He could be my heir," said Francesco Totti.

For the remainder of the campaign, however, Lamela flickered. There were flashpoints too. He clashed with Osvaldo after Roma's 2-0 defeat to Udinese amid reports that Lamela had turned to his teammate in the dressing room and sniffed: "You're not Maradona."

Both denied that anything of the sort had been said. But Lamela had by then got an unfair reputation as a bit of an upstart. He courted controversy again later in the season when he spat [or at least pretended to] at Stephane Lichtsteiner in Roma's 4-0 defeat to Juventus and received a three-match ban after the incident was caught on camera and reviewed by the disciplinary commission.

Questions were asked of Lamela after his first season at Roma. Some even considered him to be a flop. It was ludicrous to expect so much from a player who only turned 20 in March. But then this is Rome. Walter Sabatini, the Roma director of sport who brought Javier Pastore to Palermo, said: "If Lamela doesn't turn into a champion it'll mean that I'm a donkey and I'll have to get a new job." Thankfully for him, it seems, that won't be necessary for Lamela is now realising his vast potential.

He particularly caught the eye in pre-season.

When Roma's players weren't jogging up and down steps, a session known as the 'Gradoni', which has become the trademark of coach Zdenek Zeman down the years, they were instead doing nine intervals of 1,000m runs with a rest of 2:30 in between each one.

Lamela was the fastest throughout, not to mention the only player in the squad to finish the final interval under three minutes. Fellow South American Nico Lopez came in second. "[Lamela] has a lot of running in his legs. He could run for three hours," Zeman would later claim. Maybe it was tough love, but at the time he wasn't overly impressed.

Bojan and Fabio Borini, then still at the club, looked the likelier to thrive under Zeman. Once they left, the £10m Roma spent acquiring young striker Mattia Destro, the most coveted player of the summer in Italy, indicated that he'd be the one to play with Totti and Osvaldo up front. That impression was only reinforced when Zeman complained: "Lamela and Lopez are more or less at the same level in the sense that both have understood little about what I want from them."

Since then, however, Lamela's comprehension of how Zeman thinks football should be played is as good as any of his teammates. No one, except maybe Alessandro Florenzi, the 21-year-old recently capped by Italy, and Totti and Osvaldo, who have previously worked under Zeman, has got it quicker.

"For me, it's a completely new way of playing on the pitch," Lamela told Il Corriere dello Sport. "At River I was used to waiting for the ball to come to me. The play went through my feet. At Roma it's different. I have always been a trequartista. But the trequartista doesn't exist in a 4-3-3, so I go wherever the coach wants."

That has been out wide in attack and it's reminiscent of how Zeman treated Totti during his first spell in charge of Roma between 1997 and 1999. Totti had always played as a No.10 behind the strikers and contributed in assists rather than in goals. Zeman then moved him out left, apparently out of position, and out of the blue, he found the net 14 then 16 times in two seasons. "For Zeman," Roma legend Giuseppe Giannini insisted, "Lamela can be the Totti of 13 years ago." The young Argentine is certainly studying his captain.

"Totti changed the way he played over the years," Lamela acknowledged. "He knows how to do everything either as a classic No. 10 or as a No. 9. He became a great goalscorer."

Maybe that's the trajectory Lamela will follow. Roma won't be able to replace Totti. It's impossible. He's their greatest player ever and represents so much more than a footballer. But in Lamela, they have a more than capable junior, an exceptional talent who may yet leave a mark on the club like Volk and Amadei did in the years before him.

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