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Argentinian midfielder Erik Lamela, right, is impressing with Roma and reminding some of Lionel Messi.
Argentinian midfielder Erik Lamela, right, is impressing with Roma and reminding some of Lionel Messi.

All eyes are on the 'next Messi'

Ian Hawkey says Lamela is Roma's rising star and is gaining confidence after early growing pains.

Shortly after a fabled Argentine had struck his 91st goal of the year last Saturday night, another was making headlines in Serie A.

No one, for a long time, will match Lionel Messi's extraordinary monopoly of individual records, but as Italian football signed off on 2012, it was left purring at the prospect of what the next six months might bring its audiences from the deft feet of a young man once heralded as The Next Messi.

Roma's Erik Lamela has been a global name in football since the summer of 2004.

He was 12 years old then and made headlines because, while a junior at River Plate in Buenos Aires, he was the subject of a bold, monied bid by Barcelona to bring him to Spain. The story was big because of Lamela's age.

"Piracy", Argentine pundits labelled the predatory swoop for Lamela. His mother was reported to be concerned at too much, too young for her gifted son. Lamela stayed in Argentina.

Pre-teen prodigies frequently fade once they mature. Their bodies develop in unpredictable ways or great expectations confuse them. Remember Freddy Adu? The family of the American-Ghanaian prodigy were offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring him to Inter Milan when he was 10. At 14 he was signing sponsorship deals senior players envied. Adu's last gig in European football, at the age of 22, was in the Turkish second division.

Lamela might have gone that way. He has had awkward moments, rubbed up teammates the wrong way at times - last season Roma's Osvaldo punched Lamela for "being too selfish" - but at 20, his long-feted potential is flowering brilliantly.

His two goals in Roma's 4-2 win over AC Milan took his tally to nine from his last eight starts for the club.

Fifteen months ago, Lamela cost Roma over 20 million (Dh96.8m) from River Plate.

His first season in Italy featured a handful of nights to suggest the outlay was justified, but in some others he seemed miscast.

After five months under the veteran Zdenek Zeman, the coach who returned for a second stint at Roma in the summer, Lamela has discovered new purpose.

Encouraged to use his acceleration, rather than playing with his back to goal, and to seek out space to use his charmed left foot, his confidence has soared. At this rate, Roma will soon be fending off offers from the same calibre of suitor who first liked the look of Lamela when he was 12.

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