By Jack Tilghman

When Erik Lamela was just 12 years old, FC Barcelona offered his family 120,000 euros a year in a bid to lure the youngster to Spain. After much speculation, River Plate were able to keep hold of the player who had been at the club since he was eight.

It was then that the comparisons to Lionel Messi began, and since that day, more European clubs have tried to pry the pearl of River’s academy away from the Nuñez outfit, but each time Lamela has remained at home.

Now, at 18 the left-footed midfielder is finally a first team player after years of dominating the youth divisions of Argentine soccer and the club gave him his first professional contract. Lamela’s recent form has caught the eye yet again of some European giants, especially those from Italy, with Juventus and AC Milan heavily linked to the player.

On Saturday night, AC Milan Sporting Director Ariedo Braida traveled north to Santa Fe where River Plate took on Colon at the stadium known as “The Cemetery of the Elephants.”

Lamela had a poor first half, but grew as the game went on, scoring his first career goal in the second period after exchanging passes with Walter Acevedo and Mariano Pavone, before chipping Argentina World Cup goalkeeper Diego Pozo with his right foot.

After seeing the young star in person, Braida offered 12 million Euros to River, an offer that was quickly turned down by President Daniel Passarella.

The player himself was adamant he was going to stay at the Buenos Aires side: “I’ve been here since I was a child, I owe everything to River and I don’t want to leave. I want to win a title here, and if I have to leave, that it be in a few years.”

In recent years, River has struggled to hold on to youngsters, but with Passarella in charge, it seems unlikely the 33-time Argentina champions will gift their top prospects as happened under the previous regime, when the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Radamel Falcao, two stop goal scorers in Europe, were sold for relative peanuts.

12 million euros is certainly an enticing offer for any player, especially one with under 15 first team appearances and just one goal to his name, but Lamela has all the makings of a 30-40 million euro player in a few years.

Although he is labeled the “new Messi,” Lamela is very different. He is tall and elegant and acts as playmaker behind the strikers. He is deadly from set pieces, as he provided the winning assist from a corner in the Superclasico against Boca Juniors.

There is no telling how long Lamela will remain in the Argentine capital, but it seems unlikely Milan will be able to secure the player’s signature without doubling the offer.