In the summer of 2012, Roma hired Zdenek Zeman. Now, one year on, if I'd told you that Roma then took a precociously gifted youngster and spun him off to the Qatari Frenchies for a roughly four gajillion percent profit (maths...pfft), you wouldn't have batted an eye. In fact you probably would've looked at me with a sneer of condescension, slight pity for my IQ point, and closed it out by calling my mother a name. This is what Zeman does. But if I'd told you it was a defender, your brain might have melted slightly and we'd find you twenty years from now under some railroad tracks, mumbling about the "magic man" into your empty whiskey bottle full of mentally ill wonderment and tears. Except it's happening again.
Today, Walter Sabatini and that other guy, Baldissoni, were seen in London. Everybody knows what's going on: it's either Erik or Pablo.The latter is being shoved out the door kicking and screaming, demanding to be moved to a big club, preferably within Italy, while the former has been the apple of the eye of one very specific club for a very long time. A club which is soon to come into bales of money. A club which has reportedly, on good authority, made bids in the last week. Big money bids. Mega money bids. A club which is, yes, located in London.
Go ahead and draw your own conclusions.
(Miralem Pjanic isn't far from the list, but he seems so desired by Rudi it's unthinkable at the moment, not to mention he's far from a sell high or must sell point as the others may be - that's not good business and it would not seem to be a football decision at this point. Which one would suppose means it's definitely him.)
This is something which has been in the pipeline for a long time - and has happened recently in another form; not the move, but this, the look at Erik Lamela. We began at the outset of the summer, noticing Erik's name dot the landscape of season-end lists with increasing frequency. It's continued into preseason, as his preseason has done nothing to lesson the concern the sheer cliff off which he swan-plummeted in January is not an accident, but a function of Zdenek Zeman's dismissal. After all, he wouldn't be the first attacker to score a boatload of goals under the SS ZZ and then return to mortality under anyone else. And in two years in Rome, this is precisely what we're staring down the barrel of. This is, as said after the North American tour, the elephant in the room: Erik's overhyped. He's a fucking phenomenon I want to see end his career in Rome, but no one is more overrated in Italy right now than Erik Lamela - and that's coming from some of his biggest supporters.
There is a comparison for Erik, one that has seemed organic once the benefit of watching him week-in, week-out graced us; the two don't parallel, but sort of drift along the same road, weaving with each bend, crossing paths occasionally. That comparison, of course, is Kaka - in all the best and worst ways. Back when Kaka was Ricky and his pace was the spine of Serie A, you may remember he won the Ballon d'Or. Big trophy, that one. And you may recall the complete lack of surprise of a lot of people. Except one very specific demographic: some Milan fans.
See, anyone who watched Kaka will tell you that Ricky was absolute magic. Just this perfect package of searing speed, awareness, and an eye for goal. And he was all of those things....sometimes. That was his knock: he vanished. He would just disappear for long stretches, be it a game or a month, offering no everlasting mark on the game in the way of a Messi, a Ronaldo, or dare I say, a Totti. Sure, they have their bad days, but this was different. This was inconsistency.
Though the comparison makes sense, there is, of course, one grand difference: Erik's 21 while Kaka was in his prime. There is plenty of time to carve out consistency.
It's impossible to advocate the sale of Erik in the same way we scrambled to hit the launch button for the dismissal of Marquinhos, something akin to a teenage boy the first time a girl said, "Do you want to see my....chemistry homework?" But if PSG had offered 70m for Marquinhos and Erik, what say you? That's a lot harder to turn down, isn't it? (Napoli offered 40m for the pair. Go make a fucking movie, Aurelio.) But that's not the real question. The real consideration is whether or not Erik is at his sell-high point. Are they, in effect, moving Kaka to Madrid?
I'm not a fan of detailed data analysis in sport for the most part. So when I see websites like WhoScored somehow divine an algorithm which places Erik Lamela as one of the Top 5 players in Serie A last season, this is made all the worse. I watched Erik Lamela. Every single minute of Erik Lamela. Every one. And I'm hesitant to put him in Roma's Top 5 while feeding him grapes and writing sonnets to his grace and elegance on the ball. The weight of a moment rarely carries over to ninety minutes, and that's all he's ever been: moments. Erik's never dominated a match. Never.
The scouting report on Erik is easy: he's uber fast, he's technical, he can dribble anyone on the planet, often three of 'em simultaneously, he likes to drift back and grab the ball before launching a shot or playing a 1-2 of sorts, he's got a great left footed shot from the right (second on the team as far as cutting in to shoot to Miralem and forty kilometers beyond Marquinho), and he has zero awareness of where he's supposed to be on a football pitch unless the ball is within three yards of his foot. None. And that's it - he wants the ball. On a team with Totti and Pjanic, this proves difficult, because they have better vision than Bausch & Lomb. (New nickname.) His success early in the season under Zeman largely centered upon the frequency with which he ran without the ball, but that sort of just stopped in 2013. He no longer moves, but waits. He is, for lack of a better term, passive.
His greatest asset, however, is his mind. Or perhaps his heart. Maybe his soul. Maybe it's the reason I will forever be so enamored with Erik the person more so than Erik the footballer. Because there's one thing about him - that one thing. Despite his talent, despite the abuse to which he is subjected, despite the easy route laying down a carpet of red...
He doesn't go down. Ever.
Perhaps that will change. Perhaps cynicism will creep in and he too will fall victim to that bitch, football. Perhaps, over time, he'll realize that he's about to get the Totti, the Messi treatment, notches on his ankle bones indicating just how many times he's been fouled, kicked, hacked, and he'll begin to go down simply to protect his career, his livelihood, his love. But here and now, he is a shining light in the murky abyss that is calcio integry: the boy does everything - absolutely everything - to stay on his feet at all times. He's not only not a diver, but a role model for the way every footballer should be.
Does that have value? No - it's priceless. And for that reason alone, lifetime contract. Take your 35m, add a zero and shove the @#$% off, Tottenham.
But Erik the footballer is a different story. He's a precocious talent, sure, but he's also vastly overrated and overvalued on the pitch. His talent could justify the pricetag, but is this Roma a club which will hold onto talent when there's guaranteed cold, hard cash to be placed into their Italian-American mitts? Mmmmm....
Erik Lamela is not the footballer he's made out to be - not today, anyway. The reality is much of his value is centered upon what he can be, not what he currently is. In that respect, you sell at the numbers fluttering about the press. You have to sell. You're a non-European club. You're Genoa, Palermo. Suck it up, swallow your pride, admit what you are and sell. But this is different. This involves the heart, and it involves the reality that Erik could be everything the press says he is one day, perhaps even replacing Francesco when given the time on the ball he so desperately covets, while doing so as a model for the way football - even life - should be approached.
Does that have a price?