Liverpool’s high-flying and top-scoring attack this season hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield this summer is Hellas Verona winger Juan Manuel Iturbe.
With five goals and two assists in 20 starts, Iturbe has attracted the attentions of many clubs around Europe—including Hellas, who are keen to make the loan switch permanent this summer.
Starting his career at Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno, he moved to the Portuguese giants in 2010, aged just 17. Prior to his season-long loan at Hellas, he spent six months on loan at Argentine club River Plate.
Just as we’ve done with Micah Richards and Isco earlier, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Juan Manuel Iturbe’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.
Juan Manuel Iturbe has long been highly rated in South America. In fact, he earned his first senior cap for Paraguay as early as 2009, when he was just 16 years of age—but he has since declared his national allegiance to Argentina, given that his international debut didn’t count as a competitive match.
With a low centre of gravity, dangerous acceleration, skilful close control, deadly free-kick accuracy and a cool finish, Iturbe has been dubbed the “new Lionel Messi” for obvious reasons.
His pace and strength on the ball are excellent complements to his superb left foot, which has seen him fire in long-range rockets and spectacular finishes for Hellas this term. Another Messi-like trait is his tendency to pick up the ball from deep and run at opposition defences.
Still aged just 20, Iturbe has his best years ahead of him and would be an exciting addition to any squad looking for an explosive winger capable of conjuring moments of match-winning magic.
And if the Metro are to be believed and Iturbe is indeed valued at £15 million, he would most definitely be considered a good deal.
One of the most damning—and condescending—questions leveled Messi’s way is “can he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night at Stoke?”
Iturbe, who has yet to establish himself at the top level in Europe and is only spending his first full campaign on European soil, will certainly need time to adapt to English football.
His diminutive stature—he’s just 5'6.5"—means that he will be at an instant physical disadvantage in the Premier League, though his stocky frame will go some way in making up for it.
His one-footedness also limits his attacking play to go via his left side, which makes his tendencies to cut in from the right wing slightly predictable. His preference for the spectacular means that he can be selfish on the ball and in the dribble, which makes him a frustrating individualist rather than a total team player.
Potential Role at Liverpool
With their high-profile (and ultimately unfruitful) pursuits of Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka in the January transfer window, it’s clear that Liverpool are still on the lookout for a goal-scoring winger.
Juan Manuel Iturbe will certainly provide pace, attacking thrust and goals from the wing, and he would slot into a young and exciting Liverpool attack that has already been firing on all cylinders this season.
Brendan Rodgers would still need to instill in Iturbe a work ethic that has been evident in the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling this season. Besides making his eye-catching contributions in attack, he would need to put his physicality to use as a first line of defence, harrying his opponents from the front.
In addition, in a team where collective play and responsibility reign king, Iturbe would need to shelve his selfish tendencies and improve his decision-making in the final third.
With Coutinho and Sterling forming a scintillating line behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, however, Rodgers would need to evaluate how he should best blood Iturbe in and not hamper the former duo’s impressive development at the same time.
On the face of it, Juan Manuel Iturbe would be a brilliant signing for Liverpool: If Rodgers can unlock his full potential, he would be an excellent addition to a side ready to challenge for Premier League honours and looking to make a splash in Europe again.
Anfield would also be the perfect platform for Iturbe to launch himself into the European spotlight and working with Brendan Rodgers, who is now widely renowned for his man management, will only improve his game.
But from Liverpool’s perspective, with a cohesive attacking unit in such fearsome form this season, Iturbe’s “rough diamond” status would add more inexperience to a forward line already young at its core, and his style of play may need extensive coaching to adapt to a team-first, pass-and-move approach.
As such, Liverpool should only consider Iturbe if Porto are indeed ready to let him go at a reasonable price—and they’re not known for selling their best prospects on the cheap.
Perhaps the money that they’d splash on Iturbe would be better served strengthening other areas of the squad for now—unless Rodgers can find a way to fit him into an already stacked Liverpool attack.