Marvellous Reality

Even when having less of an impact than his teammates, Erik Lamela stands out. Even if not directly involved in any of Roma's goals last night, it is Lamela I remember the most. When he moves, he does so with poise and determination. His feet move swiftly, as if he's moving to his own rhytm, oblivious to the many legs of the defenders trying to end his dance. While the opposing defenders are panicking, trying to get their ducks in a row and bodies moved into a position meant to keep him out, Lamela is engaged in a dance of his own. As if he's partaking in both activities at once, not settling for playing football or dancing alone. It's not maximalist by nature, on the contrary it's the subtleness of it all that's captivating; with a gentle touch of the sole of his left foot, he can alter the entire scenario, creating new possibilities and timelines.

Watching Lamela control the ball in front of a gathered and collected defense is tantalizing. Just as Kanye West's Dark Fantasy is abruptly cut off and launched into a scene far more grim and haunting than the one we're given an early look into, Lamela alters the mood quickly. With one touch, one shift of his body, one burst of acceleration, it soon dawns on the opposing defenders that the scene is far more threatening than Lamela had let on. "You might think you've peeped the scene/You haven’tthe real one’s far too mean". They find bravery in their numbers and positions, but soon discover that they must re-assess everything around them. I suppose that Lamela being an unknown quantity in Europe reinforces the surprise moment he manipulates. He's a 19 year old kid, they might think. An offensive Argentinean, they'll say, are a dime a dozen the past decade and a half. He's never even been the flavor of the week yet, they might reassure themselves of. But they don't know what's actually going on, until Lamela lets them know, all at his own whim.

That'll stop. The surprise moment will be lost one day, defenders conscious of the impending mood switch. But they can only learn what he does now, not what he's going to do as he gets better. Erik Lamela is the most exciting talent in Roma since the early Cassano. Under any other circumstances, that title would have gone to the king maker par excellence, Pjanic, who's sitting on six assists in mid-November, or the boy Barcelona deemed fit to slap a €30 million price tag on. And that might just be the most telling of it all. Lamela's not concrete yet. He's been decisive only once so far, but there's so much promise in those small touches and the larger vision which they fit into.
Unlike Javier Pastore, whose lanky figure and elegant movement cuts an image of a classic number ten, Erik Lamela is harder to categorize. Watching Pastore, or Riquelme, play the game is being transported for a moment back in time when the geniuses were allowed to behave quirky and even awkwardly. Lamela is a more modern athlete by comparison: lean, fast and strong, he moves more effectively and unhindered by the physical restraints his antecedents like Riquelme had to build around. When Riquelme lacked the speed or strength to compete, he had to cultivate his other traits to create an advantage. Lamela is cultivating the same traits, but not out of necessity but rather, it seems, as a matter of personal taste. Lamela tries to bend his physique into the mold of an old world trequartista, instead of anchoring his game in the physical advantages he has. This stretches the analogy of Lamela tricking everyone around him even further, as yet another example of that you can't trust what your eyes tell you.