Juan Manuel Iturbe’s complicated international career appears to have finally been decided with the Bournemouth forward opting to represent Paraguay in the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers after previously switching to his country of birth, Argentina.
It doesn’t feel long ago since Iturbe was considered one of the brightest talents in world football and his decision to select La Albiceleste after representing Paraguay at youth level and even the senior side in a friendly was seen as something of a coup. Times have changed and as Iturbe’s stock has declined so too have his chances of being selected by Argentina manager Gerardo Martino, coincidentally the same coach that handed him his Paraguay debut.
Ramón Díaz, the current Paraguay coach recently said: “It depends exclusively on him (Iturbe), not us. When he wants to come, the door is open.” Now it would appear, ahead of World Cup qualifiers in March, Iturbe is ready to return to La Albirroja. Argentine coach, Díaz will no doubt have been in factor in the decision after bringing the forward on loan to River Plate in 2013 when the youngster was struggling for playing time after a transfer to Porto.
Once dubbed the ‘Paraguayan Messi’ after bursting into the Cerro Porteño side at sixteen, Iturbe has so far fallen well short of expectation despite showing flashes of his enormous talent. An inital move to Porto never gained traction but after a couple of underwhelming loans, Iturbe reminded the world of his talents in Italy with Hellas Verona.
With the side set-up to play on the counter it perfectly suited Iturbe’s direct style and although Verona would ultimately finish in mid-table, Iturbe’s eight goals and four assists would alert the league’s heavyweights.
Champions Juventus looked to have sealed a deal but in the midst of Antonio Conte’s resignation, Roma swooped and paid around €30 million for the youngster. Reproducing his Verona form in the Stadio Olimpico has proved a real challenge and in 55 appearances, Iturbe managed only five goals and five assists.
Opponents sitting deep and restricting Iturbe’s ability to break at speed in combination with his sometimes poor decision making have seen him join Premier League side, Bournemouth on loan but the 22-year-old is yet to set The Cherries alight.
It is often easy to forget that Iturbe is still only 22 with plenty of time to progress but there must be more to his game than pace. Competition for places in the Argentina squad, particularly in attacking positions, is fierce and Iturbo has never looked further away so his decision is understandable. While he may never have been able to make an impact with La Albiceleste, he could be a huge asset to Paraguay. Iturbe along with Racing youngster, Óscar Romero, Derlis González and Antonio Sanabria are an exciting prospect for the Guaraní.