Tottenham’s Erik Lamela joins pantheon of rabona greats

There were 21 goals scored in the Premier League over the weekend and there can be little doubt as to who scored the pick of the bunch.

Tottenham Hotspur ultimately fell to a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal in the north London derby, but a spark of spontaneous skill from Erik Lamela at least ensured the vanquished visitors opened the scoring in style.

Having originally being named on the bench, Lamela was summoned to replace the injured Son Heung-Min after just 19 minutes.

Indeed, the 29-year-old forward had barely been thrust into the action when he broke the deadlock on the half hour, putting Spurs ahead with an ingenious rabona finish.

With the ball bobbling around in the Arsenal penalty area, Lamela sussed his moment, scissored his feet and poked a low shot through the crowd and inside the far post.

It would appear that nobody was more shocked that Spurs left-back Sergio Reguilon, who looked completely and utterly aghast while celebrating with his teammate.

It’s fair to say that Arsenal’s social media team were far less enthused, affording Lamela’s wonder goal just six perfunctory words.

Unfortunately, things soon started to unravel for Jose Mourinho’s side as Arsenal first equalised then nudged ahead, thanks to goals from Martin Odegaard (44′) and Alexandre Lacazette (64′ pen).

The Spurs capitulation was then completed in the 76th minute when Lamela brought his mercurial appearance to a premature end by picking up two bookings in the space of just seven minutes.

In being dismissed, Lamela became the first player to both score and be sent off in a Premier League game for Spurs in almost a decade — the last being Emmanuel Adebayor in November 2012, which also came against the Gunners.

Somewhat bizarrely, as fantastic as Lamela’s opening goal against Arsenal on Sunday was, it doesn’t even qualify as the best rabona of his career.

For that we have to traipse back to 2014, when the Argentine scored twice against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League — the first being a true moment of genius.

Spurs drubbed Asteras 5-1 on a hectic night at White Hart Lane, during which Harry Kane also scored his first hat trick for the club before spending the final few minutes of the match playing as goalkeeper.

Despite the derby defeat and the early shower, it’s perhaps comforting to know that Lamela’s evening ended with him being extended an invite to join one of football’s most elusive and exclusive clubs.

The Spurs forward was handed a formal welcome to Team Rabona by none other than former Birmingham City midfielder David Dunn, one of the society’s founding fathers.

Dunn became chair and life member of the club when he entered the rabona hall of fame in 2004 with a truly timeless display of footwork during a derby game against Aston Villa.

Of course, the rabona itself pre-dates Dunn’s masterpiece by many, many years, with the first incarnation of the manoeuvre said to have come about in the 1940s.

Estudiantes striker Ricardo Infante is credited with inventing the technique having attempted an “uncommon” cross-legged shot, only to score from 35 metres in a 3-0 win over Rosario Central in 1948.

The name “rabona” was popularised during the 1970s, but the term itself also dates back to Infante’s outlandish goal against Rosario, which was branded a “rabona” by Argentine magazine El Grafico. The expression comes from the phrase “hacerse le rabona” which means to skip school or play truant.

El Grafico produced a cartoon of Infante scoring his goal with crossed legs, along with the headline “El infante que se hizo la rabona‘ (the child skips school”) — a reference to him “skipping” the use of his weaker left foot.

The rabona was later demonstrated in front of a much wider audience by Ascoli winger Giovanni Roccotelli, who debuted it in Serie B during the 1977-78 season. The move was known as “the Roccotelli cross” after the Ascoli star used it to provide flamboyant assists to his strikers

“In every game the fans begged me to do it,” Roccotelli later told La Gazzetta dello Sport, also recalling that he’d heard the great Pele was an admirer of his signature move. “A long time ago, Pele was in Italy, and he ended up talking about incrociate [‘to cross something’].

“I swear that, at one point, he said: ‘I know that there was an Italian who was good at the rabona, a guy with a moustache.’ He was talking about me, who else? And you cannot imagine what that meant to me.”

Of course, many players have enjoyed success with the rabona since then, with the likes of Ronaldinho, Ricardo Quaresma, Eden Hazard, Angel Di Maria and even Diego Maradona known to have dabbled in one of football’s most outlandish tricks.

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