Should Bournemouth be positive or perturbed about Juan Iturbe?
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | January 3, 2016
At a first glance, punters and football fans alike have been left scratching their heads wondering how a Premier League club like Bournemouth can lure a highly-rated player such as Juan Iturbe to Dean Court?
Eddie Howe’s south coast side have made the first major headlines of the January transfer window by capturing the Roma-owned Argentine attacker on loan for what remains of the campaign.
The Cherries, who have been perennial strugglers despite some eye-catching results during their maiden top-flight campaign and 13/2 (from 5/1) with Coral to be relegated, have been light in forward areas since losing top scorer Callum Wilson and £7m summer signing Max Gradel to serious knee injuries.
Winger Iturbe, 22, was capped by adopted country Paraguay as a teenager in a 2009 friendly, having spent most of his youth there, but has been touted for a big future with the nation of his birth, Argentina.
Why keep quiet about a good thing?
To all intents and purposes, then, it looks like Bournemouth have pulled off a major coup by capturing this South American talent – even holding an option to buy Iturbe this coming summer.
A positive interpretation would also point to Howe, who like the player is expected to go on to bigger and better things in coaching, already possessing real pulling power. The manager will hope to have better luck than with other major signings such as Gradel or Tyrone Mings.
Howe knows he has been lucky. “A player of his calibre is not one you would normally associate with a club like us,” he said of Iturbe. “But we’re trying to compete and stay in the Premier League. To do that, we need to get the best players.
“We had competition and we were able to secure his signature in a move that favoured us so we get to look at him before any decision is made to sign him permanently. He will bring energy, creativity, pace and can pick a pass. We’re hopeful that he can have a big impact.”
Yet there should be some doubts, even scepticism about Iturbe. Why would Roma be willing to part with a player they paid a reported £17.4m to Hellas Verona for and handed a five-year contract to in the summer of 2014? It’s a question that lingers.
Eternal City struggles
Look at how Iturbe performed in the calendar year of 2015, and an answer soon presents itself. Scoring three goals for the Giallorossi (and making as few assists) in the whole of last year isn’t much of a return on that investment, though the potential for vast improvement on that remains.
Indeed, Iturbe made just three Serie A starts for Roma this term – and didn’t complete 90 minutes in 19 appearances for Rudi Garcia across all competitions – before the Cherries came in for him.
The pressure that surrounds players at big clubs appears to have an effect on Iturbe, as he struggled to make an impact at Porto, making just 10 first-team appearances there, and had an underwhelming loan spell with River Plate, where he scored just three in 17.
But Bournemouth, unlike Buenos Aires, Oporto or Rome, doesn’t have a football team that is expected to win titles or at least challenge for them. At the Cherries, who began 2016 three points above the Premier League relegation zone, it is all about survival.
Two Gentlemen of Verona
It was the same for Iturbe during his stint in Verona, and he clearly played with most freedom, and thus his best football there. During 2013/14, he proved a fine foil for ex-Italy target man Luca Toni, supplementing this Azzurri battering ram with eight goals.
Playing off, around, or whipping crosses in for an old-fashioned centre forward worked a treat for Itrube, who assisted 20 per cent of Toni’s Serie A tally that season. Bournemouth just so happen to have a similar yet less auspicious type in that mould in Glenn Murray.
Whether Howe gives a central supporting role behind the striker or a wide berth to Iturbe, the player has much to prove. Dean Court has a very different atmosphere to the larger arenas in which he has plied his trade previously; the Estadio do Dragao, El Monumental or the Stadio Olimpico.
Being a big fish in a smaller pond could help Iturbe’s career, but Cherries fans may look at how long it took Tottenham to start getting performances out of compatriot Erik Lamela and rightly point out they don’t have that much time.
An immediate impact once an EU work permit has been granted, with Bournemouth battling relegation rivals Norwich City and Sunderland back-to-back at the end of January, will allay any concerns over Iturbe.