I won't even tell you where I had Juan Iturbe slotted in our top ten countdown when we first laid it out several weeks ago, but even his most ardent supporters can't deny that he's lost some of his luster. Despite his near move to Genoa, Iturbe remains Roma property and, like it or not, he's still a hell of a talent, certainly one worth further grooming. The flashes of brilliance we have seen from Iturbe, both here and in Verona, are enough to make you drool, and while he has some noticeable faults, if he can string it all together, there aren't many kids more talented than him working their way towards Rome.
With that out of the way, let's take a look at the highs, lows and might bes of Juan Iturbe.
Who is He?
Dubbed the new Messi due to his diminutive stature, slick skills and nose for goal, Iturbe made his professional debut in the Paraguayan Primera Division in 2009 when he was just 16-years-old. However, due to some legal vagaries, Iturbe wasn't actually considered a professional, but then things got really interesting for young Manu.
As he was too young to sign a pro deal, Iturbe trained with Argentine side Quilmes for most of 2010 before finally signing a deal with Porto, for whom he would only make six appearances. Porto summarily sent him back to South America, this time to River Plate, where he remained through the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Still not convinced of his talents or his progression, Porto loaned Manu to Hellas Verona for the 2013-2014 season. Hellas quickly moved to make the deal permanent, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What Can He Do?
While the sheer amount of stamps on his passport could be indicative of a lack of talent, Iturbe has always been a pretty sought after prospect due to his electric ability on the ball, speed and workrate. While we didn't see a ton of it during his lone season in Rome, Iturbe was one of Serie A's most dangerous players during his time with Hellas Verona, averaging three dribbles per match, scoring eight goals and contributing four assists for the Mastiffs, forming a deadly partnership with Luca Toni in the process.
Generally speaking, when Iturbe is in peak condition, he is a menace to defenders, possessing equal ability to dribble around them, work one-twos, thread through balls, provide service from the flank and threaten the goal. Iturbe's strength, workrate and tackling ability makes him an exceptionally strong defender for his position.
Simply put, when he is on his game, he's an incredibly dynamic talent, possessing skill, strength and hustle for days.
What Can He Become?
Ah, yes, at last we've reached the €22 million question. Even the most ardent Iturbe supporters will admit he struggle last season, taking a definitive step backwards from all the promise he showed in Verona. Whatever magic, whatever mojo he conjured during his run with Verona was gone. Whether it was due to the big city pressure, his less than ideal fit with Garcia or simply his struggles with confronting withdrawn defenses, Iturbe was, more often than not, ineffective and listless, which may have caused him to press, gunning for goals every time the ball came his way.
So, at this point, the biggest question is simply this: will his feel for the game ever catch up to his athleticism? If you'll permit a basketball analogy, Iturbe is the hotshot playground point guard, the one who can burn anyone off the dribble, cross over the toughest of defenders and even throw it down like a big man, but once you try and dress those skills up in an organized game, something goes wrong.
That's Manu. From his tiny head to his toes, he is oozing with nearly unrivaled footballing talent, he simply needs a more nuanced understanding of the game, to understand that not every moment calls for step overs, body feints, or shoulder barges, that sometimes subverting your—I don't want to say ego because he's definitely a team player—individual aggressiveness to the greater good produces better results. He just has to realize that not every minute in the match is his time to shine.
The following was written before his loan move to Genoa was called off, but it remains relevant to his development, especially if the notion ever occurs again.
The problem with his potential move to Genoa is environmental, that is to say, it's damn near a carbon copy of his year at Verona. With no one other than Goran Pandev standing in his way, Iturbe should once again be cock of the walk, having virtual free rein over the Grifone's offense, where he will once more resume his role as the offensive initiator/volume shooter.
He's sure to pile up some nice stats, but will this benefit his overall development? Will this make him a better asset for Roma?
These are important questions to ask. If he can deepen his understanding of the game, Roma might actually have the Argentine Ribery on their hands. If not, he'll probably end up scoring 10 goals a year for Southampton or some similar club.
Roma have quite a mess on their hands. Even his harshest critics will admit Iturbe can be the big man on a small team, but what Roma needs is to teach him how to work within a broader tactical framework. So if you farm him out to a midtable side, it's wash-rinse-repeat, he's going to be option A through Z, so he'll never deepen his understanding of the game. On the flip side, if they continue in this fashion--jerking him in and out of the lineup--he won't get enough playing time to hone his mental faculties.
Whatever the future may hold, as I've said umpteen times, given his age and price tag, you simply have to give him every opportunity to succeed.