The 'Paraguayan Messi' was actually, like little Leo, born in Argentina, and the Roma forward could soon be swapping the Eternal City for English shores, writes Greg Lea...
- Date of birth June 4, 1993
- Place of birth Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Height 5ft 7in
- Position Winger
- Current club Roma (28 apps, 3 goals)
- Former clubs Cerro Porteno, Porto, River Plate (loan) Hellas Verona (loan)
- International Paraguay (1 app, 0 goals)
The 60-second story
Born in the football-mad Argentine capital of Buenos Aires in 1993, Juan Iturbe was living in Paraguay – the homeland of his parents – by the time he was a teenager.
Perhaps his mother and father’s decision to move back to the country of their birth helped little Juan make the most of his extraordinary talent. With 24 clubs operating in Buenos Aires, it's probably easy for a young player to slip under the radar. Yet in the youth team of Cerro Porteno – Iturbe had joined Paraguay’s most popular football club as a 14-year-old in 2007 – the stocky boy with the Argentine accent was the star man.
The big transfer to Europe now customary for young South American players arrived in 2010, when Porto fought off fierce competition for Iturbe’s signature. But it was during a loan spell at Hellas Verona in 2013/14 that people on this continent really started to sit up and take notice, with his performances for Serie A’s surprise package of the season convincing Roma to part with €22 million to take him to the Stadio Olimpico.
Iturbe perhaps hasn't hit the heights expected of him at the Giallorossi so far; occasionally left out of Rudi Garcia’s XI because of injuries and inconsistent form. Even throughout those rough patches, though, there has been no doubting his natural ability.
Why you need to know him
Iturbe may have endured a frustrating season but he remains one of the most highly-rated youngsters in Europe. The man dubbed one of many 'new Lionel Messis' is the type to bring audiences to the edge of their seats and, providing he applies himself, he surely has a big future ahead of him.
Still only 21, Iturbe has already played for five clubs, with a sixth potentially coming as early as next season. Agent Gustavo Mascardi has revealed his client is unhappy at how Roma handled the knee and ankle ligament injury Iturbe sustained in January, and hinted that a move to England could be on the cards.
"It was not well understood by the technical staff and that did not give him confidence," Mascardi told Gazzetta TV. "There are very good proposals from England for him. We'll see what Iturbe and Roma decide."
Whether he will ever be anywhere near as good as the Barcelona man remains to be seen, but the comparisons between Iturbe and Messi go far beyond their common motherland.
Iturbe shares that same mesmerising dribbling technique, and is able to beat players with his quick feet and burst of acceleration. He is also a danger when cutting inside onto his favoured left foot, particularly given the accuracy of his shots from distance.
Another useful quality is his capability of playing anywhere across the frontline: despite being employed primarily on the right of a three by Roma coach Garcia, he is also comfortable playing on the left or behind the striker. No matter his position, give Iturbe the ball and he will create chances.
For Iturbe to take his game to the next level, he must add two things: consistency and a better end product. The Roma No.7 has only managed three goals in 28 appearances for the Giallorossi, figures that will need to be improved if he wants to become one of the world’s top forwards.
He also has the tendency to over-elaborate at times, too often choosing the spectacular over the simple. This can result in his side losing the ball and, although such a trait is common in wingers of his age, it's a deficiency that Iturbe needs to iron out of his game.
Iturbe only spent a single campaign at Verona, but that was more than enough to make a lasting impression. "The one player who shall never be forgotten for what he has demonstrated on and off the pitch... a special and unique boy who became a first-team regular at Verona and then a champion," gushed the club’s official Twitter account when the player’s switch to Roma was confirmed.
Coach Andrea Mandorlini was also full of praise for the Argentine. "Iturbe has some amazing qualities," he said on Italian television earlier this season. "He’s still young so you have to have a little patience, but [he has] the qualities that make the difference."
Did you know?
The 21-year-old has represented both Argentina and Paraguay at international level. Having grown up in the latter country, his loyalties initially appeared to lie with los Guaraníes, and he was handed his first cap aged 16 in a November 2009 friendly against Chile.
However, his personal progress in subsequent years has seen Argentina swoop in, and Iturbe appears to have had a change of heart. Given his sole appearance for Paraguay came in a non-competitive fixture, Iturbe was able to switch allegiances; the Argentines wasted no time at all in bringing him into their setup, and he starred in the 2011 South American Under-20s Championship.
He has yet to play for the senior side; a fact that merely demonstrates the ludicrous strength in depth right across the 2014 World Cup finalists’ attacking line, with Messi, Angel Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain all ahead of Iturbe in the pecking order.
- Shooting 8
- Heading 4
- Passing 7
- Tackling 5
- Pace 9
- Dribbling 9
- Creativity 8
- Work-rate 7
What happens next?
Reports suggest that Liverpool and Arsenal are the English clubs that Iturbe’s agent was referring to when he claimed to have received offers from interested parties. Roma will surely want to retain his services and ensure the Italian capital is where he fulfils his enormous potential, but at the same time they could be be tempted to sell should a significant offer from Anfield or the Emirates be sent their way.
Former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson tried to tempt Iturbe to Old Trafford back in 2011, but the move failed to materialise as the winger opted to stay put at Porto. Four years later, with an apparent willingness to move to England and a style of play that would suit the Premier League, the exciting wideman could be coming to a stadium near you soon.