With his contract expired it was clear Cristian Lema was leaving but Belgrano’s inspirational captain’s departure is no less of a blow for El Pirata as Benfica swooped to take the 28-year-old free agent.
Lema arrived in Lisbon this week to complete a medical and on Friday put pen to paper on a five-year deal with the Portuguese giants.
After an outstanding season with Belgrano, scoring eight goals, as the club finished 13th in the Superliga, Lema had put himself firmly in the shop window and out of contract there was no shortage in interest.
Clubs within Argentina, Mexico, Greece and Spain all sounded out the central defender but Benfica won the race for Lema’s signature and add the Puerto Madryn native to their increasing Argentinian contingent.
“First I want a good adaptation. I want to fell adapted to the club, to the group, in order to play on my top level. I can’t wait, it is a very important step in my career,” Lema told Benfica’s official website.
“I have made a good season, in a hard championship, and I was expecting and opportunity like this. When it came, I made my decision along with my family that was very happy.
“I’m pleased to have this opportunity. I have much to give and I hope I can show it along with my teammates. It was a difficult decision in terms of the family, but on the sporting side it was the first option, no doubt. It is an enormous club, it’s a big step in my career, I’m very happy and looking forward to help the club.”
Something of a late bloomer, Lema began his career at local club Guillermo Brown de Puerto Madryn but after moving to Newell’s Old Boys and spending loans with Tigre and Quilmes, it wasn’t clear if the defender would really make a mark on the Argentinian top flight until his move to Belgrano.
Four years in Córdoba saw Lema establish himself as one of the top central defenders in the league and Belgrano’s solid defence combined with his impressive goal return saw Lema named alongside Benfica’s other summer signing Germán Conti in the Golazo Team of the Season.
A good organiser, strong, powerful and an aerial presence in both penalty areas, Lema provides Benfica with a useful defensive option and arriving on a free transfer could prove to be a steal.
Settling in Lisbon shouldn’t be a problem with Benfica home to a number of Lema’s compatriots. Germán Conti and Facundo Ferreyra already arrived in this window, Lisandro López expected to return from his loan at Inter plus Eduardo Salvio and Franco Cervi.
Making the move to Europe at the relatively advanced age of 28, whether Lema will prove a success in Portugal remains to be seen but his absence will certainly be felt in Córdoba.