As Juan Cuadrado made his move to Juventus this week, it was difficult not to call to mind another winger making a similar return to Italy back in January. Indeed, as Chelsea picked up the Colombia international, Mohamed Salah went in the opposite direction and would subsequently shine at Fiorentina. His impact helped the Viola reach the semi-finals of both the Coppa Italia and the Europa League, also lifting the club to a fourth-place finish in Serie A.
Many expect Cuadrado to similarly rediscover his best form after leaving Stamford Bridge, just as Kevin De Bruyne, André Schürrle and Salah have done. The latter has changed clubs once again this summer after signing with AS Roma, and Juan Iturbe now appears to be the one casualty of this reshuffle.
The Argentinean has failed to live up to his early promise following his own big money move, and it was widely reported this week that his agent was in London, conducting talks with both Everton and West Ham over a potential move. It is the latest example of the 22-year-old’s development stalling, and a look back over his career to date shows an odd pattern of dizzying highs followed by surprising lows as the Buenos Aries native fails to adjust to new surroundings.
It began with Cerro Porteño in Paraguay where he was initially frozen out of the first-team, only to announce his return with two goals in a Copa Libertadores meeting with Colo Colo. A sustained run of good performances brought the inevitable move to Europe and, as they so often do with such talented youngsters, it was FC Porto who gave the South American talent a chance to shine.
Sadly however, that early progress was halted almost immediately, a combination of poor form and a reputation for being selfish with the ball quickly being followed by a series of niggling injuries. Initially relegated to the club’s B team, Iturbe would look for the exit and by December 2012 was heading back to his homeland for a spell at River Plate, where there were enough glimpses of his potential to prompt Hellas Verona to take him on loan for the 2013/14 campaign.
Having matured physically, he took Serie A by storm, and was a major protagonist in a side also boasting Luca Toni as the two struck up a fine understanding.
Playing on the right Coach Andrea Mandorlini’s 4-3-3 formation, Iturbe was a nightmare for opposition full-backs, combining devastating pace with enough skill to beat any defender who got close enough to him. He looked like a player reborn, drifting in-field when the opportunity presented itself and netting eight goals in 33 league appearances.
Much more of a team player than he had been previously, the Gialloblu benefitted hugely from his re-emergence as he also weighed in with four assists, a tally which fails to highlight just how many chances he created for those around him. Statistics from Squawka.com show the 22 year old laid on no fewer than 39 clear scoring opportunities, the majority of which were squandered by a team who would end the season in season in an impressive tenth place.
Hellas would take up their agreed purchase price of €15 million, and Juventus would be on the brink of signing the player until Antonio Conte suddenly quit the club. AS Roma would seize the chance to sign Iturbe, handing the Veronese side €22m as they looked to close the gap between themselves and the champions. Stealing him from their rivals so soon after they had been abandoned by their coach led to a feeling that 2014/15 could be the year Rudi Garcia’s men ended the dominance enjoyed by the Turin giants.
Having already played in an almost identical tactical system in the same league in the previous campaign, Iturbe made a bright start which included a wonderfully taken goal against Juventus in October. Yet once again he faltered, suffering a rapid decline in form and failing to justify that large transfer fee as he endured a scoring drought that lasted some 232 days.
Ending the season with just three goals and three assists in 36 games, he now seems set to move on once more, with little indication of which version of Iturbe might arrive in the Premier League. At his best he is a superb winger, cutting in from the right with a low centre of gravity, superb ball control and a deadly accurate left foot that is capable of delivering in both open play and at set piece.
Yet all too often he is found on the periphery of matches, fading into the background rather than bringing his obvious talent to the fore. Genoa have also looked into signing him on loan this summer, but that would be taking a major risk, just as it is for the interested Premier League sides.
However, it is one that could pay off spectacularly if Iturbe delivers on his immense potential.
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