Over the past few seasons, Serie A has helped launch the careers of many a young footballer, with Erik Lamela, Paul Pogba, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Lorenzo Insigne all garnering international attention for their exploits on the peninsula. Usually known for preferring experience over youth, Serie A is beginning to shed that image as more and more young players are being given a chance for a host of reasons.
The latest addition could come in the form of one Juan Manuel Iturbe, scorer of two excellent goals over the past two matches for Hellas Verona. Once known as “the Paraguayan Messi” for his exploits as a teenager for Cerro Porteno in the Paraguayan first division, the Buenos Aires-born flyweight found himself being sought after by some of Europe’s top clubs as a teenager.
At the tender age of 17, Iturbe agreed to sign with Portuguese powerhouse Porto in 2010, however, he would have to wait until he turned 18 a year later before it could be made official. It seemed like the ideal destination for the winger as the Primeira Liga, and especially Porto, are known as the first port of call for South American footballers transitioning to a more European style of play.
However, Iturbe struggled during his time in Portugal, making only seven appearances without registering a single goal or assist. Injuries and poor form led the Paraguayan-Argentine to Porto’s reserves the next season after being bumped down the pecking order by another talented South American, James Rodriguez. He fell off so badly that despite being ranked by ‘In Bed With Maradona‘s’ 100 best young prospects, he was given the ignominy of their lowest grade last year, suggesting that he “get back to basics.”
Iturbe has done just that. Shortly after he returned to the country of his birth and joined River Plate on loan for the Clausura championship. It was here where Iturbe rediscovered his form, playing in all but one of River league matches, pitching in with three goals and two assists as Los Millonarios finished in second place, three points off the top.
It was his form in Argentina that led to Hellas taking a chance on the young player. The newly promoted club had already signed his teammate at River, the highly rated midfielder Ezequiel Cirigliano, and capped off their impressive transfer campaign by signing Iturbe on loan with a right to purchase fully for €8 million. For a side fresh out of Serie B, it was a remarkable signing given the potential Iturbe has, however, his disappointing time with Porto saw his value shrink.
After making only a brief substitute appearance in a 2-1 loss to Juventus, Iturbe made his first start for the Gialloblu against fellow promoted side Livorno on September 29. It was here where the ‘fantasista’ netted his first goal for the club, a marvelous freekick to open up the scoring. The very next week Iturbe played even better against Bologna, scoring another sublime goal, this time running through the opposition defence and rifling a shot past Gianluca Curci from around 20 metres out. He has also added an assist for Luca Toni, Hellas’s second in a 4-1 rout.
Still only 20 years old, Iturbe is starting to show the talent that originally burdened him with the moniker of the next Lionel Messi. Hopefully this time the young starlet will keep his feet firmly on the ground and develop into the player many had thought he could be.
Follow Frank Lopapa on Twitter: @fnlopapa