The resignation of Antonio Conte as Juventus ‘mister’ was of huge benefit to Roma, as not only have the champions lost the inspiration for their resurrection of the past three seasons, but it also cost them the signing of Verona attacker Juan Manuel Iturbe, who has cost Roma €31million. Is the Argentine worth that much, and where does he fit into Rudi Garcia’s tactical plan?
Iturbe was born in Buenos Aires in 1993 to Paraguayan parents, something that gave Iturbe an identity crisis later in life. He grew up in Paraguay and came through the youth academy of Cerro Porteno, a club who have enjoyed Paraguayan stalwarts such as Franciso Arce, Diego Gavilan and Carlos Gamarra playing in their blue and red colours. Iturbe made his debut with the Asuncion side aged just 16 but soon ran into problems upon refusing to sign a new contract with the club. With his father he left Paraguay and began training with Quilmes, whilst also declaring himself for the Argentina national teams under 20 category, causing a diplomatic incident between the two countries as to who had ‘ownership’ of the player. Iturbe did return to Cerro Porteno on loan, before signing for FC Porto for €4M following a superb performance in the South American under-20 championship, but only played five games for the first team before being loaned to River Plate. After three goals in 17 games in Argentina he returned to Portugal with an offer from Italy, and Hellas Verona.
Signed on an initial loan deal with a €15m clause to make the transfer permanent, Iturbe was something of an unknown quantity to most Italians. He did almost make it to Italy in 2010 and sign for then-Serie B side Gallipoli, only for the deal to fall through at the last moment. Verona sporting director Sean Sogliano is an expert of South American football and spends a few weeks of the summer transfer window traveling the continent looking for deals. As well as signing Iturbe, River Plate man Ezequiel Cirigliano also arrived in northern Italy, and though he arrived with more fanfare, he didn’t make nearly as much of an impression as Iturbe. The Argentine got his first goal against Livorno, but it was against Bologna where people began to take notice as Iturbe scored an incredible goal, sprinting from his own half, receiving the ball and after beating two defenders smashing the ball in just outside the area. Six of Iturbe’s eight goals for Verona were scored outside the area, and all on his left foot. His constant success when cutting inside from the right was at times Robben-esque, with defenders knowing what he would do but still being unable to stop it. Iturbe helped Verona to 10th place, an excellent finish after 11 years out of Serie A. At the seasons end, Verona paid the €15M clause, knowing that they would soon receive a much larger offer to take him to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
It seemed Iturbe’s deal to Juventus was all but done, but when coach Antonio Conte announced he’s left the club, the Giallorossi (yellow and reds) pounced, signing him for a total of €31M, including agents fee’s, future fee’s and monies to a third party who had a percentage of ownership of Iturbe. The winger was quick to thank Verona, stating ‘Thank-you for all you have done for me, I’ll always be a supporter of Gialloblu (yellow and blues)’.
Now the pacy South American can concentrate on a title challenge and Champions League football, but where will he fit into Rudi Garcia’s tactical system? The French tactician enjoys a (players permitting) attacking 4-3-3 formation, with full-backs pushed on and wingers cutting inside. With Gervinho cutting in from the left, Iturbe is in a perfect situation to work in tandem on the right, making Roma look more balanced and giving them an extra threat they perhaps lacked at times last season in games where defenders sat particularly deep.
Expectations for next season are that Roma will again challenge Juventus’ monopoly of Serie A in recent seasons, but with Conte leaving and the arrival of Max Allegri, that certainty of black and white banners hanging from the Scudetto shield are no more. With Milan and Inter still in transition and no real challenge from elsewhere, perhaps this season is the opportunity Roma have been waiting for to finally win their fourth Scudetto. With players like Iturbe arriving, this dream becomes slightly more of a reality.