It’s taken a little longer than expected, but Juan Iturbe is finally starting to realise his enormous potential that led him to being dubbed ‘the new Lionel Messi’ only a few years ago. Of course, when any big talent emerges from Argentina, they are instantly dubbed and hyped up to be the next Maradona or the next Riquelme
Who is Juan Iturbe?
Iturbe started his career with Paraguayan giants Cerro Porteno at the tender age of 16 back in 2008. Porto, as always on the hunt for young South American talent, snapped him up in 2010 and he was expected to follow in the footsteps of so many South Americans before him such as Falcao and Lucho Gonzalez in using Porto as a stepping stone in Europe, before inevitably moving on for big money to one of Europe’s elite. His career had stalled however in Portugal, and after a number of years on the periphery of the first team, hope was beginning to fade for the young Argentine on whether he could actually cut it in Europe. Fortunately, he has found a new lease of life in Verona, where his form has won him admiring glances across the peninsula from the leagues big boys. Verona, a town famous for the setting of Shakespeare’s epic tale – Romeo and Juliet – can bear witness to hopefully another romantic tale, this time in football form, with the rise of Juan Iturbe.
Born in Argentina, Iturbe actually grew up in Paraguay, and if it wasn’t for a falling out with club and national officials, Iturbe could very much be representing the Paraguayan national team at the moment (he has already represented the Paraguayan under 17’s and 20’s). Iturbe had a dream debut for Cerro Porteno, when he scored less than a minute upon entering the pitch as a substitute when he was just 16 years old in a Copa Libertadores match against Chilean giants Colo Colo. That stunning introduction to top flight football inevitably led to Iturbe being pushed into the spotlight and clubs all around the world vying for his signature.
Porto duly snapped him up as soon as he turned eighteen, as many saw this as a smart move considering the success South American players have had at the club in recent years. A move to Portugal was seen as the ideal step in his career at this stage, as he could hone his talents in one of Europe’s less rigorous leagues and still get a chance to showcase his talents in Europe’s elite competition. The dream plan however began to unravel throughout his stint there, as injuries, form and poor attitude led the former wonderkid to only make 7 first appearances at the Dragao, without registering a goal or an assist. A loan to Argentinian side River Plate in early 2013 however was the beginning of an upswing in form for Iturbe, as he was an ever-present contributing goals and assists, leading the Argentinian giants to second place in the Clausara.
This sort of form led to Verona taking a chance on him on loan, and they have duly been rewarded for their faith in the youngster. Having debuted in a small cameo off the bench against Juventus, Iturbe made his full debut against Livorno on September 29. It was here Iturbe demonstrated one of his main weapons in his arsenal, netting a splendid free kick to open the scoring. Further goals against Bologna, Fiorentina and two in his last two matches against Lazio and Udinese have meant that Iturbe’s record is at a healthy 5 goals in 15 games so far this season from the wing. His cohesion with Jorginho and fellow newcomer Luca Toni has been key to Hellas Verona’s European push, and has catapulted them above traditional giants Inter and Milan. His form has been so good that he has been linked with moves to Roma and Liverpool in the January transfer window, but you feel he’d be best suited to finish the season in Verona, where he is a regular starter and fan favourite. His agent – Gustavo Mascardi – may have a different idea as he has recently said he is open to a move to Roma:
“I want to make it clear that Iturbe has played for both Porto and Verona this term, so he cannot leave Verona for a different club in January,” pointed out agent Gustavo Mascardi on TMW.
“His experience at Porto is over and he has absolutely no intention of returning. We’ll make sure Verona will take up their option, either with the support of a big club or a financial fund. It won’t be a problem.”
“Roma? At the moment there is nothing concrete, but I’d be a liar if I denied Roma would be a good destination.”
Still only 20 years old, it is crucial at this stage of his career that Iturbe plays regular football. After revitalizing his career in Europe, it would be dangerous for him to fall into another trap and make another ill-advised move. If Iturbe continues this form to the end of the season, it will be the Real Madrid’s and Barcelona’s that will come for him in June instead of the Roma’s and Liverpool’s. Who knows, his form could lead him to being called-up for Argentina’s World Cup squad in June.
Juan Iturbe featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014. He was at #3 in our list of forwards/wingers. See the entire list here.
Style, strengths and weaknesses
It’s pretty obvious to see why Iturbe has been likened to Lionel Messi. Boasting a low sense of gravity, dangerous running with the ball at speed, and always looking for an opportunity to shoot, the Argentine’s talent is never in doubt. Primarily left footed, that is his main weapon as he is able to rifle shots from distance with power and venom (a trait he showed against Fiorentina with a 35 yard rocket into the top left corner), but his lack of using his right foot hinders him on occasion. Iturbe also always has an eye for the spectacular, and while this may look amazing, sometimes he may miss an opportunity for the simpler, more effective pass. He is still young enough to iron out these deficiencies, and you could also put it down to youthful exuberance, but if he wants to be an elite player then he must learn soon.
Like Messi, Iturbe loves to pick up the ball from deep and drive at the defence with his incredible speed and turn of pace, coupled with his brilliant close control, it makes for thrilling viewing for the audience. Iturbe is also earning a reputation as a free kick specialist, after netting goals from set pieces against Lazio and Livorno so far this season. Iturbe generates so much power and swing from his left boot, and it has left many a goalkeeper helpless so far this season.
One of Iturbe’s tendencies is always to cut in from the right onto his more favoured trusty left boot. When he does get a chance to shoot with his left he is extremely dangerous, however it comes a tad predictable when he constantly does it. If he adds a bit more variety to his game and goes on the outside of his marker more to keep the team guessing, he will become a much more unpredictable opponent and thus be harder to stop.
Not the tallest player (he stands at 1.69m tall); it is clear that he is not the strongest in the air and would rather play with the ball on the ground. One of Iturbe’s main weaknesses is his selfishness and need to do everything on his own. His coach Andrea Mandorlini called him out recently after a match against Catania in which they drew 0-0. Iturbe chose to go for goal when there was a clear goal in the offing if he chose to pass to Luca Toni instead: “Iturbe has incredible quality, but he must learn to play with the team more” Mandorlini stated.
Again, these sorts of things will disappear with experience and maturity you’d hope, but there is still a large scope for improvement in Iturbe. Iturbe must be able to show he is willing to listen and learn from his teammates and coaches, and there should be nothing to stop him from fulfilling his large potential if that happens.
“A combination of injury and not taking his (admittedly limited) opportunities have made Juan Manuel Iturbe’s time at Porto a frustrating one so far – the next twelve months will be key.” – Ben Shave (PortuGOAL)
“Iturbe was singing in the rain,” wrote Diego Costa in La Repubblica. “But if Gene Kelly danced while he did that, then Iturbe made the opposing defence do it instead.”
Not everything comes naturally to Juan Iturbe. Verona’s Argentinian playmaker has a way of making things look so straightforward on the pitch, bewitching his opponents with the simplest of touches or flicks. Since joining the club on loan from Porto in the summer, he has started three Serie A games and twice been named as Gazzettadello Sport’s man of the match. Already he has two goals and an assist to his name.– Paolo Bandini (The Guardian)