Juan Manuel Iturbe 19 Striker FC Porto
Those who are paid to watch football for a living often feel an inherent need to constantly compare players with others while they develop. For example, Ryan Giggs lived for years with the tag ‘the new George Best’ before he finally became his own man, in turn Gareth Bale moved to a more attacking role and duly became ‘the new Ryan Giggs’. Somewhere in the future there is a left-sided midfielder, possibly a Welsh one, who will go on to take the mantel of being ‘the new Gareth Bale’. Thus the wheel carries on turning and all is right with the world.
Now some players struggle with this more than others but in all cases it’s ridiculous to compare a developing player with an established one by virtue of a few tenuous similarities. Two players playing in the same position will approach their role in radically different ways, two teams will use their individuals to greater or lesser effect to suit different philosophies. It is both unfair and unnecessary to tag anyone ‘the new…’ as after all, if you live in the shadow of another will you ever feel the freedom to be your own man?
Who can forget Ariel Ortega - ‘the new Diego Maradona’ no less - a hugely talented footballer whose main crime was struggling to live up to being casually talked about in the same breath as the greatest player to have ever played the game. After some success, controversy, personal problems, and a much travelled career (just the twelve clubs…), a huge talent gets tarred with the brush marked ‘disappointing’ purely by virtue of not being as good as El Diego – criminally unfair whatever you think of Ortega the footballer in his own right.
And so we present to you the cruelest tag in world football currently available today, ‘the new Messi’, and we give you a player who has carried it like a millstone from his promising youth career through to a move to a European football club with pedigree - Juan Iturbe.
To truly understand the reasons for the comparison you have to tick off ‘the new Messi’ clichés, and here’s a handy checklist all of us at IBWM Towers have prepared for you:
1. Is he Argentinian? Tick.
2. Can he be described as ‘diminutive’? Tick.
3. Is he an attacking midfielder/forward capable of playing wide in a front three or behind a striker in the modern style? Tick.
4. Low-centre of gravity, ball-on-a-string dribbling ability, and snap-sharp control? Tick, tick, and tick.
5. Eye for goal? Tick.
All good? Evidence suggests that he must be the new Messi then…
Well no, Juan Iturbe is…Juan Iturbe. To further hammer home the point, if you look at Lionel Messi’s 2011/12 season it went thus – 60 appearances, 72 goals, world acclaim. Iturbe? 4 appearances, 0 goals, 2 yellow cards.
Last season was his first since moving to European football having begun his career in headline grabbing style with Cerro Porteño in Paraguay. Almost as soon as he came to the fore he duly fell out with management at Porteño and found himself nowhere near the first team for a year. His return to senior squad thinking was marked in sensational style with a brace against Colo Colo in the Copa Liberatodores in a second half substitute-cameo that had observers purring and reaching for the comparison box for the first time. His star was tipped to shine brighter than most, he had become the new Messi.
As is the way, any young talent like this was immediately linked with Europe’s finest - Real Madrid, Liverpool (who remain huge admirers – watch this space if things pick up), Manchester United and Internazionale all dispatched scouts accordingly and made the most interested noises, a move was merely a matter of time rather than a possibility.
An agreement was made by the one team to move decisively at the time and Porto seemed like a good fit for all, great things were subsequently forecast once again. He also settled on playing for Argentina in 2010 despite having represented Paraguay at youth level, and took to life with their U20 squad well with four goals in nine games, a winner against Brazil increasing his column inches significantly once more. Life looked good, potential high, he seemed settled internationally and with a new lease of life at an exciting European side to look forward to, inclusion in the 100 entirely justified.
However, that’s where things began to go wrong.
There were many factors as to why Iturbe basically stalled as soon as he came to Portugal. Poor form struck immediately and the selfish trait running through his game endeared him to no one on the pitch or the stands. Injury and unhappiness came as sure as night follows day, chances weren’t taken, and ‘the new Messi’ now looked more like the ‘the new Messy’.
Coupled with the downward spiral was the good form of others in his position, a situation which not only clogged up his route to the first team but also highlighted just how disappointing Iturbe had been since arrival. He now has Silvestre Varela, Christian Atsu and the sensational James Rodríguez to live with and up to if he is to break back into the first team, and as James now finds himself comfortably one of the hottest footballing properties on the planet the bar has been raised significantly.
He now finds himself in Porto’s B team most regularly and there are signs that he’s slowly putting things together. We’re reliably informed by Portuguese football expert and former IBWM editor Ben Shave that he’s beginning to look like a footballer again, even scoring a couple of winners and buying into more of a team ethic. There remains a long way to go however, the once regular scouts watching his every move have gone away and a regular first team place looks out of reach at the minute. Putting things together slowly in the B team is one thing, using it as a springboard is another.
The new Messi? No, never was and no one ever will be. The only label he needs for a while is ‘Juan Iturbe the hardworking player fighting his way back into the first team’. Work to be done Juan, lots of it.
“A combination of injury and not taking his (admittedly limited) opportunities have made Juan Manuel Iturbe’s time at Porto a frustrating one so far – the next twelve months will be key.”– Ben Shave (PortuGOAL)
E No doubt there’s a player in there but a shockingly poor year and still nowhere near a first team place. Time to get back to basics