Cristian Franco Lema, a 28-year-old centre-back (24.03.1990), is a Benfica new signing for the 2018/19 season. The Argentine, born in Puerto Madryn, started playing football at Guillermo Brown, the club from his hometown where he was nurtured. He left the club already was a senior player to join Newell’s Old Boys.
Until he reached Belgrano – where he played between 2014 and 2018 –, he made an ever-rising journey.
LEMA'S CAREER TOTALS
He always wanted to be a football player, as he admitted in an interview with the "Dia a Dia" newspaper from Córdoba: "I would ask my parents a soccer ball every Christmas and birthdays." For Lema, to play football was "what he always wanted to do". They could take everything from him but the ball.
At the age of just eight, his grandfather took him to Guillermo Brown U-10 team for a trial. He made an impression and remained there – until 2009! At the age of 17, he made his debut at the Club's first team, but there was still a dream to be fulfilled. It was missing the debut in the Argentinean top flight.
Lema, a centre-back with an impressive physical presence, 1,90 m tall, was far from imagining that at the age of 20 he would reach what he wanted. The agent Jorge Cyterszpiler observed Lema in a match between Guillermo Brown and Rivadavia de Lincoln, took him to train with other free agent players and shortly after the centre-back made his debut in the first division at Newell’s by the hand of Roberto Sensini, a former Argentinean international, who also trained another Benfica new signing for this season: Conti.
The adventure began
The debut occurred in November 2010 against Godoy Cruz (0-0) in round 13 of the Argentinean Super League.
A memorable match that later was remembered by the Benfica new signing in an interview.
"I started in the youth ranks at Guillermo Brown from Puerto Madryn. Then I moved to Newell's. I started playing in the reserves to gain the rhythm of the AFA. My debut was with Sensini in the first division and ended winning a spot on the team", remembered Lema.
LEMA'S NUMBERS BY CLUB
|Newell’s Old Boys||12||-|
Now he had to consolidate the spot in the center of the defense… After the team from Rosário, where he made 12 appearances, Lema represented Tigre in 2011, emblem in which he played 11 encounters.
At the age of 22, the centre-back transferred to Quilmes, a team where he established himself in the defense. He racked up 40 appearances and more than 3000 minutes played. I was time to make the leap.
An example of commitment and temperament
In 2014, he arrived at Belgrano and established himself as one of the most promising centre-backs of the Argentinean football, making his debut at international competitions (Copa Sudamericana, in 2015). Lema has no caps for his country yet, but he has been collecting praised for his performances, namely after the season that ended recently, which was the best season of his career.
Some of the words of praise came from Pablo Lavallén, the coach of the defender at Belgrano. “Lema is one of those players that transmits unity to the team through his commitment and temperament”, he acknowledged.
Idol at Belgrano
At Club Atlético Belgrano he became an idol for the “hinchas” [supporters]. One of the most paradigmatic cases of the passion that the supporters feel by the defender is the case of Graciela Miranda. The Belgrano supporters is a fan of Lema and tattooed his name on her arm.
The numbers help explain why the supporters of Belgrano love Lema so much. Counting the matches in the first division, we are talking about the best goal scoring defender in the history of Belgrano, with 16 strikes.
Off the pitch, the priority is the family
He loves football, but he has other causes for joy in his life. Lema has a wife and a daughter, Victoria.
“Outside of football, I am a calm person. I like to be with the family and enjoy the time I spend with them. I also like to go for a walk”, he said in an interview.
After Conti, Lema is the second centre-back who arrives at the Reds coming from Argentina in 2018/19.
Text: Marco Rebelo
Pics: SL Benfica /Archive