To call Juan Iturbe a lightning rod for most Roma fans would be a dramatic understatement. Stolen from under Juventus’ nose following Antonio Conte’s abrupt resignation during the summer of 2014, Roma quickly threw down €22 million for Iturbe, promptly signing him to a five year deal. Win, lose or draw, it will go down as one of the most important signings in club history.
Unfortunately for all parties involved, the first two years of this relationship have been a definitive downer, with Iturbe spending as much time on the sideline or in the trainer’s room as he as on the pitch. Even when healthy, Iturbe has struggled mightily, seemingly incapable of dealing with defenses that don’t cater to his whims. All told, Iturbe’s Roma career has amounted to 39 league appearances and a measly three goals.
Things reached their nadir as Iturbe bottomed out with Bournemouth last spring, struggling to garner playing time with a bottom feeding British side. What was seen as a last gasp attempt at resurrecting his already struggling career was an absolute bust, as Iturbe played a total of 56 minutes through the spring of 2016, or as Roma calls it a Uçan.
But we know all this already, so why are we here? Simple: Luciano Spalletti. Last week we lamented how Spalletti would never get the chance to work with Adem Ljajic, a man seemingly molded in Spalletti’s image, well the same can be said for Iturbe. Given his workrate and skill on the ball, Iturbe seems like an ideal cog in Spalletti’s machine; not necessarily a world beater, but a kid who can maximize his potential.
While Spalletti admitted he was curious about Iturbe, Manu was unequivocal in his desire to work and learn from Luciano:
As I’ve said many times, I am happy to be back at Roma, as I was so anxious to meet Spalletti and work with him
I know what he thinks about me and hope he decides that I can stay this season. I’m training for the good of the team and know this is going to be a very difficult campaign.
Spalletti can help me become a better player. He works a lot on tactics and you too have seen in training he never wants you to get even one pass wrong. We’ve got to do it right or he’ll get angry!
The atmosphere at Roma has always been wonderful, it’s a great group of lads and we like to joke around. I think with this Coach and the players who arrived in January, we can do very well
Love him or hate him, you have to admit, Iturbe is saying all the right things. His response and attitude towards his current predicament has been nothing but mature; not that Iturbe was ever a prima donna, but you get the sense that we’re dealing with a kid who knows his options are running out, so his humility and hardwork are welcome signs.
Spalletti has done many great things during his two stints with Roma, but can he actually mold Manu into a serviceable footballer, to say nothing of the budding star we all thought we landed a couple years ago?
By imposing an up tempo, forward thinking passing game—one that values precision and pace above all—Spalletti is playing a dangerous game with Iturbe. One the one hand, this plays to his strengths (speed, agility, dribbling ability) while the quick tempo should decrease the chances for brainfarts, while on the other hand, his imprecise passing and general tactical uncertainty might not gel with Spalletti’s approach.
I believe we’ve made this analogy before, but Iturbe is the classic swagalicious playground point guard—the kid who can cross you over, break your ankles and throw it down with authority—but the minute you put him on a real court, in a real game, and with the onus of running an offense, things go astray.
The tools are there, but it’s always been a matter of coaching, of getting him to slow his brain down and play a team game. In the short term, he may see minutes behind Stephan El Shaarawy, Mohamed Salah or Diego Perotti, but turning Iturbe into a productive footballer may require every ounce of Spalletti’s being.
We know Iturbe is up for the challenge, but does Spalletti have the patience, or even the time, to nurture Iturbe into a real €22 million man?