New jewels in Argentina
One is a left-footed attacking midfielder with River Plate, the other a right-footed forward with Boca Juniors. What they do have in common, however, is that they are two of the most promising young talents in Argentinian football, having both made their mark in the recent Apertura championship. FIFA.com presents Erik Lamela and Sergio Araujo, two prodigiously gifted 18-year-olds who are already in the sights of some of Europe’s top clubs.
Stylish and bold
Born on 4 March 1992 in the Buenos Aires province of Florida, Erik Manuel Lamela is a typical product of River Plate’s youth system, which he joined as an eight-year-old. 'Coco', as he is popularly known, came to the wider public’s attention in 2004, when Barcelona offered him a place at La Masia, the club’s fabled training academy.
Those closest to the exceptional youngster were not surprised by the offer, and nor was the player himself. “I’m skilful, always looking for the ball and I get in on goal... I’m a good player,” he told Argentinian TV at the time with all the confidence of youth.
In the end, Lamela stayed with Los Millonarios, but the huge media exposure the offer provoked would adversely affect the teenager’s game. “From the moment all that came out, people began to look at me differently. They wanted to know if I was the real thing or not. I felt the need to justify Barcelona’s interest in me, and it wasn’t easy,” he admitted in mid-2009.
Despite the attention Lamela refused to abandon his elegant and daring play, all the time honing the left foot that today wreaks havoc in rival defences. As a reserve player he established himself operating as a left-sided midfielder or behind the front two, culminating in his being handed his first-team debut by Nestor Gorosito in a Clausura league match against Tigre in June 2009. And while Angel Cappa gave him playing time and confidence during his stint in charge this year, it was under then caretaker and now permanent coach Juan Jose Lopez that the player really blossomed.
Lamela notched his first league goal in Round 17 of the recently concluded Apertura, when he equalised against Colon with an exquisite strike. “I never thought my first goal would be with my right,” he joked after the game, which River went on to win 2-1.
The youngster was back for more in the last game of the season against Lanus, once again helping his side to a come-from-behind victory. It came as no surprise, therefore, when the Buenos Aires behemoths recently rejected a reported $12m offer from an Italian suitor, the bid falling short of the $20m in the player’s buy-out clause.
“It’s nice that clubs are tracking me, but I don’t want to leave," Lamela said. "I’ve been with River since I was a boy and owe them everything. I want to win something first – at least one title – and then if it’s doable, maybe in a couple of years, I could go then."
In that sense, the case of Sergio Ezequiel Araujo is distinct, the player having shot to fame after some outstanding performances for Argentina's U-17s en route to a runners-up spot in the 2009 South American championship and a Round-of-16 appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria that same year. Three goals in each of those tournaments and his audacity in taking on opponents saw him widely lauded in the media.
Born in Villa Crespo, Buenos Aires, on 28 January 1992, Araujo got his first taste of football playing futsal with neighbourhood outfit Atlanta. It was there he was spotted by Ramon Maddoni, the scout who discovered, among others, Carlos Tevez. After a spell at the academy side Club Parque, through which the likes of Fernando Redondo and Juan Pablo Sorin have also passed, Maddoni brought the then 11-year-old to Boca. So thorough was his schooling there that when he made his debut in the youth team in 2007, he marked the occasion with four goals.
“I’m a forward with pace and good ball control. I can work the channels, pass and shoot with either foot, and love to go past opponents and get crosses in. I think I’m the perfect foil for a centre-forward, although I can also hold my own in the area. I model myself on Sergio Aguero,” said the player who, unsurprisingly, has been nicknamed 'Kun' after the Atletico Madrid and Argentina star.
Although Alfio Basile gave the striker his league debut against Banfield on the final day of the Apertura 2009, it was under Claudio Borghi that he began to come into his own. However, after a mistake against San Lorenzo in Round 5 of the last Clausura ended up costing his side the game, Araujo lost a bit of confidence and slipped down the coach’s pecking order.
“I understood his decision to drop me, and I vowed there and then to take advantage of any opportunity I got,” he would later say. Following Borghi’s departure from Los Xeneizes, Araujo would get the chance he was waiting for under successor Roberto Pompei.
After coming off the bench against Arsenal, he tucked away his first league goal after a trademark dribble and was instrumental in his side’s win. So impressive has he been since then that he ended the Apertura campaign as first-choice strike partner for Martin Palermo, a veteran nearly twice his age.
An agreement with Real Madrid has given the Spanish giants first option on any eventual transfer, a situation Araujo is flattered by but is not getting carried away with. “It’s gratifying to know, but right now I just want to consolidate my position. Only recently have I been able to think about one day maybe playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and [Gonzalo] Higuain. For now, though, my dream is to win things with Boca.”