It was with deep regret that Erik Lamela finally competed his long-awaited move from Roma to Tottenham Hotspur, the Argentine winger making way as the Italian club needed to cash in on the £25 million deal to balance the books.
The move has been met by widespread disappointment around the capital as Roma have lost the electric pace and direct style that saw him score 21 goals and assist 12 in his two years in the eternal city, becoming a talent that Francesco Totti named as his obvious heir.
Totti’s remark is now poignant and Lamela’a brilliance will be a mere memory among the fans on the Curva Sud, though the Giallorossi have reacted with haste to the setback of losing the 21 year old starlet, pulling off an astute deal for Fiorentina’s Adem Ljajic. Locked in a contract dispute with La Viola and courting the long-term interest of AC Milan, Roma have jumped in to sign the 21 year old Serbian international for just €11 million.
For a player who was instrumental in Fiorentina’s fourth place finish in Serie A last year having scored 11 goals and assisting 6, it is a bargain deal for Roma as they fill the void left behind by Lamela with a similar dynamic, agile attacker able to play right across the front 3.
It was in the central slot behind the main striker where Ljajic spent the majority of last season before he was switched to the left side of Vicenzo Montella’s attacking trio, embarking on a prolific run of form from February onwards, scoring 10 goals in his next 11 games including a final-day hat-trick against Pescara.
The attacker has tallied 78 appearances for Fiorentina since moving from Partizan Belgrade 3 years ago and he already has 7 caps for Serbia at the age of 21. Blessed with fine vision, unerring close control and deft technique, Ljajic definitely has the attributes to play centrally, but his quick bursts of speed and ability to cross and hug the touch line dictates his immediate future is out on the flanks.
His talent was scouted by Manchester United as a teenager but a deal fell through with the Partizan director of football Ivan Tomic saying “I think they will regret this decision in the future”. Under the right guidance at Roma, the prophecy could turn true.
Ljajic’s versatility will be a huge asset to Rudi Garcia as he sets about stabilising a club who are in the midst of deep transition. The Serb’s ability to play in a variety of withdrawn positions will see him support main striker Francesco Totti, either from the left or in behind the experienced striker, in Garcia’s favoured 4-3-3, or should the French coach turn to a 4-3-1-2, Ljajic will be just as comfortable supporting an attacking duo of Totti and Marco Borriello.
The 21 year old will join an attack that yields a variety of options to Garcia, adding to Gervinho, Rodrigo Taddei, Marquinho, Miralem Pjanic and the two young talents of Gianluca Caprari and Mattia Destro as Roma aim to build an era of stability under their new coach.
There will be concerns over Ljajic’s notable unwillingness to help track back defensively or his potential for explosive indiscipline that saw Fiorentina coach Delio Rossi, Montella’s predecessor, sacked for punching the 21 year old after he was sarcastically clapped for subbing the Serb off in May 2012.
Though there will be an assurance within the Giallorossi, who experienced problems with Erik Lamela’s erratic behaviour in his early days in Rome, that the vast potential and talent of Ljajic will outweigh the player’s indiscretion as he further matures with age.
With Ljajic having finally departed following stalled contract talks, Fiorentina have moved for Croatia’s highly-rated teenager Ante Rebic as a replacement, signing the 19 year old on a five-year deal from RNK Split.
Since emerging from the youth set-up at Hajduk Split in 2011, Rebic scored 18 goals in 60 appearances for RNK and similarly to Ljajic, he can play an effective role in a variety of attacking positions. Fiorentina’s new number 9 will join up immediately with Montella’s squad and will form a new-look attack together with Mario Gomez, Guiseppe Rossi and Joaquin.
After performing brilliantly for Croatia in this summer’s under-20 World Cup with 3 goals in 4 games, Rebic was elevated to Igor Stimac’s senior squad in August and scored within just 3 minutes of coming off the bench. It is this impact and burgeoning talent that has alerted scouts from the likes of Tottenham and Swansea before Fiorentina landed their man.
After Lamela’s switch to Spurs was finally rubber-stamped, it sparked a busy few days of business in Serie A and it has been interesting business, Adem Ljajic will begin the next chapter of his promising career at Roma while Rebic will have the platform of Montella’s fluid Fiorentina to showcase his talents.
The Giallorossi will cry the loss of Totti’s natural heir, but that title is now open to Ljajic, the eyes will be very much on him just as Fio’s eyes will be on Rebic.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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