He was an early coup in the January transfer window and made his debut on Tuesday night after making the switch from Italian giants AS Roma to the south coast. Here, Digby tells you everything about the man dubbed the ‘next Lionel Messi.’
“I played football everywhere; it’s the only thing I know how to do.”
Reflecting on his childhood in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Juan Manuel Iturbe actually gave Italy’s famous pink sports paper a succinct analysis of his career to date. Indeed, AFC Bournemouth’s latest signing has already played his football in four different countries, arriving at Dean Court with a promising reputation and a resume that includes some of the World’s biggest clubs.
Born in Buenos Aries, his parents decided to move the family back to their native Paraguay while he was still at school, a move which brought the promising youngster to the attention of the national team. Representing the Albirroja at under-17 and under-20 level, Iturbe was then handed his full international debut at just 16 in a friendly against Chile.
After spending those formative years with Cerro Porteño, he would leave the Asunción-based side for FC Porto in the summer of 2011, only to spend a frustrating period in the club’s B team. After less than two years in Portugal, a loan spell at River Plate would follow and his prodigious talent once again came shining though.
Looking physically and mentally ready to return to Europe, Hellas Verona would offer him a chance to prove he belonged at the highest level and Iturbe duly took the opportunity, taking the 2013/14 Serie A by storm. He quickly became a key figure for the Gialloblu, building up a superb understanding with veteran striker Luca Toni who benefited almost immediately from the pacey wingers arrival.
Fielded on the right of Coach Andrea Mandorlini’s 4-3-3 formation, Iturbe proved to be a nightmare for opposition full-backs, combining devastating pace with enough skill to beat any defender who got close enough to him. He would drift in-field whenever the opportunity presented itself and weighed in with eight goals and four assists in 33 appearances, figures which downplay just how much he had developed his passing.
Statistics provided by OPTA show he laid on no fewer than 39 clear goal scoring opportunities over the course of that season, and it was clear that his overall impact on the pitch was vastly improved.
"I’m learning new things," Iturbe would say at the time, describing being made to track back “fulfilling” and crucially explaining his new-found love of creating for others.
"I like scoring goals, but the team comes first," he continued, ending the interview by saying that “helping Toni score is my principal objective.” That mind set helped lift Verona to a mid-table finish, with Iturbe finding himself the subject of a bidding war between reigning champions Juventus and their closest challengers AS Roma.
The latter ultimately won out, making him Italy’s most expensive summer signing at a cost of €22 million, and on the surface it seemed like an ideal move for all concerned. Under Rudi Garcia, the capital club played a similar formation to Hellas and Iturbe began brightly as he netted a wonderfully taken goal against Juventus in Turin.
Yet as they so often have, Roma once again faltered, demolished 7-1 by Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the Champions League and then capitulating domestically as they won just seven of their next twenty Serie A fixtures. They would still dominate possession however, robbing Iturbe of the chance to play on the break, thus stifling his potent attacking threat.
That was, until, the penultimate day of the season. Going head-to-head with bitter rivals Lazio, Iturbe would grab a 73rd minute goal in spectacular fashion to help his side secure Italy’s second automatic Champions League spot.
It was a priceless strike, and the game showed just how good Iturbe can be. In full flight, the 22 year old is a superb winger, cutting in from the flank with a low centre of gravity, superb ball control and a deadly left foot that is capable of accurate delivery in both open play and at set pieces.
His attributes are seemingly ideal for the Premier League, and his move to AFC Bournemouth is one that could pay off handsomely as Juan Manuel Iturbe is given the space to deliver on his immense potential.
To hear more from Adam Digby supporters can follow him on Twitter @Adz77
To watch Iturbe's first ever press conference as an AFC Bournemouth player, click here
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