Juan Iturbe to AFC Bournemouth: misguided move or astute swoop?

Juan Iturbe to AFC Bournemouth: misguided move or astute swoop?

BY TOM GUERRIERO-DAVIES

One of the first transactions of the 2016 winter transfer window saw Bournemouth fight off competition from Watford to secure the loan of Roma’s struggling former-‘wonderkid’, 22-year-old Juan Iturbe. It’s the sort of big-name-to-modest-English-club transfer that the Premier League’s spiralling TV revenue is making possible – think Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke or Esteban Cambiasso to Leicester – and it will undoubtedly have pulses racing at Dean Court. But having disappointed at more than one of his previous European stopping points, how likely is the already well-travelled young winger to succeed in England?

Born in Argentina but raised in Paraguay, Iturbe took the familiar route to the promised riches of Europe via Porto’s highly respected South American scouting network. He failed to make an impression in Portugal though, and was loaned to River Plate before settling at Hellas Verona in northern Italy. It was here that Iturbe was finally to have his break-out season, lighting up his side’s 2013-14 Serie A campaign with fearsome dribbling displays as well as long-range striking ability. The cohesion he brought to the Verona attack was particularly impressive, as he regularly exchanged goals and assists with the evergreen Luca Toni.

These performances attracted the interest of a host of potential suiters over the following summer, and Roma fronted a hefty €22m to pinch Iturbe from title rivals (and winners) Juventus. But after a promising start to life at the Stadio Olimpico he lost first his form and then his place in Rudi Garcia’s preferred eleven, and failed to regain either. Back at Verona, meanwhile, Toni didn’t appear to be missing his diminutive former companion, scoring twenty-two times to finish joint-top scorer in Serie A at the end of 2014-15. The arrivals of Iago Falque and Mohammed Salah, both also wide attackers, offered a grave indication of his standing at Roma, and an injury to the latter gave Iturbe a run in the team which he failed to capitalise upon, scoring just once in nineteen appearances this term.

With this predicament in mind, the Cherries appear to have done well in acquiring the player on loan for the remainder of the season, with a purchase option reportedly in the region of £18m only to be considered if the move goes well. This allows manager Eddie Howe to assess whether he can curb the selfishness that has come to mark Iturbe’s decision-making, which will be a necessary development to justify such a price tag. Rekindling the form we saw at Verona will not be easily done, and Bournemouth’s attractive possession game does not bare much resemblance to the direct approach he has thrived upon previously.

Iturbe himself will need to buy into a team-ethic much better than he did at Roma, and has no shortage of cautionary tales to convince him that his attitude must be correct. Recent history suggests the English top-flight can be a difficult place for pacey forwards coming from Serie A; for every Phillipe Coutinho or Shaqiri doing well, there is a Juan Cuadrado or an Erick Lamela finding life in the Italian sun much more fruitful. Strength, perhaps more so than speed, is vital in a league where everyone is fast. Iturbe does not cut a very robust figure out on the right, and could find the famous physicality of the Premier League a rude awakening. There’s little doubt that Bournemouth’s new signing has the talent to succeed in football’s richest division, but he may have to toughen up both mentally and physically if he is to show it.

Tom lives in Milan and is the Faculty’s Italian correspondent. He is a season ticket holder at the San Siro, where he analyses Serie A closely. You can follow him on Twitter here: @TomGDella

Follow the Football Faculty on Twitter @thefballfaculty