Legend has it that whenever a child is born in France who can pass a football, Arsene Wenger gets a phone call. When Yoann Gourcuff was born, Wenger must’ve smiled to himself and smoked a cigar, The Godfather style.
During the 2012-13 Series A season, Erik Lamela lit up Italy. He was the lone silver lining in another wasted year for AS Roma. He flanked Il Re Di Roma (The King of Rome) Totti from the right, taking players on with a shimmy to the left, a little misdirection to the right, a quick step over back to his left with a sudden burst of acceleration to leave defenders chasing dust.
His first touch was delectable, decisive; his foot would caress the football like Hemingway would, to his parchment. Lamela scored 15 goals that year, at the age of 20, and showed vast potential.
Yoann Gourcuff’s career didn’t go as planned. His frail body couldn’t keep up with his prodigal talent. He went from Lorient to Rennes to Milan and to Lyon, looking to finally put together a healthy season. But his immaculate first touch, the unbearably breathtaking vision to see a runner float by and the confidence to pull out an audacious trick have all still remained.
This is why Arsene Wenger, the collector of imagination and unselfishness keeps going back to Gourcuff every summer, hoping he’d be fit. For six years Gourcuff has been linked with Arsenal for a transfer, but due to fitness and representation issues, it has never come to fruition. Wenger, a slave to his appreciation of inventiveness, sees what Gourcuff can do, all the potential to be the heir apparent to Zidane, rusting away.
Erik Lamela transferred to Newly-Flushed-With-Superstar-Money Tottenham in the summer of 2013 for 30 million pounds. He came to London hoping to conquer it, but a year later, with less than 20 appearances for the club, Erik has become a punch line, the poster boy for Tottenham’s dumpster fire rebuilding project post-Gareth Bale.
Lamela struggled with the physicality of the premier league, he was often injured, didn’t like the food or the weather, and missed Rome. These are the reason given for his failure. He hasn’t started this year too brightly either, with rumors linking him back to Italy in full motion. Football fans, forever waiting for the next update have jumped on the Christian Erikson bandwagon.
Then he goes out and does this.
His career is flailing, he’s being called soft, left out of his national team, and he pulls this out of the bag. The imagination to think of a Rabona and the absolute balls to go through with it.
The mouth-watering temptation of potential is why Lamela will always be courted. But there is Gourcuff potential here as well. He may never work on his body or his language or his lifestyle to be good enough. But he will never lose the invention to create that momentary lapse in time where reason and caution are thrown to the wind and this is when football itself fulfills its potential to provide us with artistry and reverence.
It gives us magic and hope of a future where talents like Lamela and Gourcuff are nurtured and not ridiculed, a future where this outrageous ingenuity is appreciated.