Juan Iturbe: Is Roma's Newest Signing Truly Worth €30 Million?

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistJuly 19, 2014

Verona's Juan Manuel Iturbe  celebrates after scoring, during a Serie A soccer match between Udinese and Verona at the Friuli Stadium in Udine, Italy, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Paolo Giovannini)
Paolo Giovannini/Associated Press

AS Roma pulled off something of a coup on Wednesday evening, announcing via their official website (in Italian) that they had signed Juan Manuel Iturbe from Hellas Verona.

The capital club appear to have snatched the player from Juventus, taking advantage of uncertainty in Turin following the resignation of Antonio Conte.

Transfer expert Gianluca Di Marzio had tipped the young Argentinean to move to the Italian champions before the exit of the 44-year-old coach. Writing on his own website, the respected journalist said talks to "define the deal" were taking place on Tuesday evening, but now the player will join Rudi Garcia and the Giallorossi.

Iturbe has just completed his first season in Serie A, settling immediately and prompting Hellas Verona to exercise their option to purchase him from Porto.

Paying the agreed €15 million, it was clear the Gialloblu would seek a quick return on their investment, and they have turned a solid profit as Roma seem set to pay around double that sum (h/t Football Italia) to secure the 21-year-old.

With that as the Veronese side's intention all along, the question of value has arisen, with many wondering whether the fee represents fair value. The first point to make here is to explain why Hellas were able to negotiate such a low sum, and the answer to that is quite simple.

After grabbing the headlines at the South American Under-20 Championship in 2011, Iturbe was given the "new Messi" tag, thanks largely to an incredible goal against Chile following a Messi-esque solo run from the halfway line.

Porto would bring him to the Estadio do Dragao, only to see him endure two abject campaigns with the Liga Sagres outfit. He made just 10 appearances—failing to net a single goal—and was sent on loan to River Plate in an attempt to resurrect his ailing form.

It was his move to Serie A which would eventually revitalise the 5'7" (1.72m) winger, playing in his favoured role on the right of Andrea Mandorlini's 4-3-3 formation.

Predominantly left-footed, he was instrumental in helping the newly promoted side not only retain their top-flight status but achieve an unexpected 10th-place finish at the end of 2013-14.

In 33 appearances, he netted eight times, an excellent return for his debut campaign on the peninsula. Analysing the numbers and breaking down his performances in more detail reveals there is much room for growth, meaning Roma are also paying for the player Iturbe could be in the future, not just who he presently is.

Juan Iturbe Goals 2013-14
Juan Iturbe Goals 2013-14Squawka.com

Perhaps the first area to look at is his shooting, and with six of his Serie A strikes coming from outside the box—see above graphic—the Argentinean is happy to test opposing goalkeepers regularly.

Squawka shows he took 72 shots last term at an average of 2.2 per game, managing 27 on target, 28 off target and seeing 17 of his shots blocked.

Per the same source, all eight goals came from his left foot. This shows that there is room for improvement on his weaker side, though that same issue has hardly slowed some of Europe's finest players.

Moving on to his distribution, Iturbe suffered a little due to the wastefulness of his Hellas team-mates, creating 39 clear-cut scoring chances yet recording only four assists, according to stats site WhoScored.com.

Overall, his passing took a huge leap forward last term, his previous reputation as a ball-hog dissipating as he completed more than 48 percent of his long-range attempts and six out of 10 through balls.

The presence of Luca Toni helped the winger complete 22 percent of his crosses per WhoScored, a surprisingly high number given he is a left-footer playing on the right wing.

It is an attribute Mattia Destro should profit from next year, and Iturbe should also provide a left-footed alternative in certain set-piece situations.

VERONA, ITALY - APRIL 27:  Luca Toni (R) of Hellas Verona celebrate with teams mate Iturbe Juam Manuel Arevalos after scoring his opening goal  during the Serie A match between Hellas Verona FC and Calcio Catania at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on April
Dino Panato/Getty Images

Stationed mostly on the right, he needs to be more aware of his positioning, often drifting inside when not on the ball, which can make him much easier to contain although it allows the full-back behind him to overlap.

If he is to truly help Garcia's impressive side improve further, he must consider staying wide to stretch defences and create space for others.

With the ball, he is a terrifying prospect for even the best defenders, with only Juan Cuadrado of Fiorentina (118) completing more successful dribbles than the skilful Argentinean's 99, according to WhoScored.

Wonderful close control, a low centre of gravity, impeccable balance allied with quick, intelligent footwork mark out Iturbe as the textbook dribbler. Running with the ball at pace is undoubtedly the Argentinean's strongest suit, but it also highlights the lingering selfishness in his game.

He averaged just over 20 pass attempts per game, which will hopefully improve with age, maturity and more trust in his team-mates at Roma.

Juan Iturbe 2013-14
Juan Iturbe 2013-14Squawka.com

It is no surprise, therefore, to find his name among the most fouled players in Serie A last term, suffering 76 times from poor opposition challenges (see above graphic). It is both indicative of his calm temperament and to Iturbe's credit that he was booked on just four occasions.

He also fouled less than once per game himself, committing just 30 infringements over his 33 appearances and, under Mandorlini's tutelage, applied himself diligently to the defensive side of the game.

His dedication to the common cause saw him average 1.7 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per game, according to WhoScored—numbers both higher than renowned workaholic Carlos Tevez.

Iturbe also possesses one other admirable trait when he loses the ball himself, which happened on average twice a game in 2013-14 according to the same source: He makes a concerted effort to win it back rather than complain to team-mates or officials.

All in all there is clearly room for improvement with the 21-year-old starlet, but his raw potential marks him out as a wonderful complement to Gervinho on the opposite flank.

Juan Manuel Iturbe may not be the best winger Roma could have signed in the summer of 2014, but he could well be the one to help them take a leap forward in the future.


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