Languishing in ninth place in Serie A, Roma has not lived up to expectations this season.
In its first full year under new American ownership led by James Pallotta, the club was expected to return to elite status in Italy with an eye on returning to the Champions League. Instead, the team has been woefully inconsistent, often turning in emphatic victories before suffering demoralizing defeats. Adding more salt to the Giallorossi's wounds is that the club's city rival, Lazio, sits 10 points ahead in third place.
However, it hasn't been all bad for Roma this season. The club has seen impressive form from one of its youngest players, Argentine Erik Lamela, who has thrived in his second year with the team.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder is an impressive livewire talent at 6-feet tall and is currently tied for fourth in Serie A with 11 goals. Lamela hopes that his improvement this year will catch the attention of the Argentina national team but admits that he will have to help Roma turn around its season if he has any shot of earning his second call-up.
“Up until now we haven’t been able to perform as the fans and we ourselves would like,” Lamela told Goal.com. “Hopefully I’ll get another call-up. That’s my dream but I just have to keep playing well and… wait for the call to come.”
Lamela credits much of his improvement due to lining up alongside club legend Francesco Totti, who has scored an incredible 223 goals in 523 appearances.
“Francesco is world class and it’s from players of his caliber that you learn to play good football," Lamela said. "I try to learn something from him every day.”
Even though both players are similar in physical size, Lamela admits he doesn't model his game after Totti. Instead, he believes he's much like every other young Argentinean - he wants to be just like Lionel Messi, openly idolizing the Barcelona star who won the Ballon d'Or for a fourth consecutive time.
“Messi is obviously a player I like,” Lamela said. "Messi deserves the Ballon d’Or because he’s the best player in the world. As a person he’s very modest both on the field and off it.”
While he might get his insights on the game from Totti and aspire to be on the level of Messi, Lamela points to U.S. international Michael Bradley as Roma's sparkplug on the pitch. Bradley has been another one of Roma's few standouts this season and his endless energy keeps guys motivated in a difficult season, according to Lamela.
“He’s an important player for us. He always takes a lot of drive onto the field. Players like him help fire the rest of us up,” Lamela stated.
Considering that Roma has Lamela and Bradley in addition to its star core of Totti, Danielle De Rossi, Miralem Pjanic and Pablo Oswaldo, it's somewhat of a mystery as to why things haven't panned out for the capital-based team.
Statistically speaking, Roma is the second-worst defensive team in the Serie A, with its porous back line allowing almost two goals a game in 24 league appearances. Only third-from-bottom Pescara (49) has surrendered more goals than Roma (45). Without major investment in that area during the January window, it's hard to see how the team will turn things around, but Lamela remains optimistic about the team's chances this season.
Lamela believes that a lot of Roma's issues this year are a result of a lack of confidence. Recently-fired head coach Zdeněk Zeman wasn't known as an arm-around-the-shoulder type, and, under a new caretaker manager in Aurelio Andreazzoli, Lamela hopes that the club finds a more consistent balance.
"We need to start winning more consistently and really believe in how good we are, then we’ll be able to get into the Champions League," Lamela insisted.
As for his own personal progress, Lamela is satisfied but he knows there's still plenty of work ahead.
“I’m pleased with what I’m doing on a personal level. I need to keep it up though, I must not stop now,” Lamela said.
Lamela is excited about Roma's plans for a new stadium in 2016.
If completed on schedule, Roma will be the second team in Italy after Juventus to own a venue. Juve hit a rich vein of success both on and off the field since Juventus Stadium opened in 2011. With several other teams planning new stadium developments, Lamela believes that Serie A could benefit from teams with better business models.
“I’d like to play in a stadium owned by Roma, for us but especially for our fans. Of course, being able to play in new stadiums owned by the clubs would benefit the whole league,” he said.
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