Juan Iturbe may be the spark that ignites Bournemouth's season one way or the other
It says a lot about the growing ambitions and financial strength of the Premier League that Bournemouth have wasted no time in signing the forward Juan Manuel Iturbe on loan from AS Roma, with the option of making the deal permanent in the summer.
Eddie Howe’s lack of fear has perhaps been the most refreshing characteristic of his approach to management and has, in a way, come to define Bournemouth’s identity. A positive style of football at a time when Bournemouth are in no way completely safe from relegation (when nine out of ten managers in his position would have relied on scrapping and percentage football) has won him and his club several admirers.
Injuries have not been kind to The Cherries this season – the attack alone has been depleted by long-term injuries to Max Gradel and Callum Wilson (five goals in seven starts at the beginning of the season). Their relative success has come despite these notable absentees, but Bournemouth cannot reasonably be expected to continue like this indefinitely.
Although in these circumstances a dip into the transfer market was almost essential for Bournemouth, the signing of the former Paraguay and Argentina youth international Iturbe represents something of a gamble for Howe.
Speed and skill, grace and graft
Certainly, the 22-year-old Iturbe looks a ready fit for Bournemouth’s attack in theory. A left-footed forward who plays on the right side of the attack, the diminutive Iturbe looks to cut in onto his stronger foot. For this, as well as his scorching speed and dribbling skills, he has drawn comparisons with Lionel Messi.
Also a hard worker, Iturbe cannot be faulted for his effort and can be expected to drop anchor and help the team’s cause should the situation demand it.
While it is unlikely that the Argentine will displace Matt Ritchie in his preferred position from the off, and even then it is not out of the question that the former Porto forward can force himself into the reckoning, it is possible he could find a permanent berth on the opposite flank. The duo of Junior Stanislas and Marc Pugh is one Iturbe can certainly look to climb above in the pecking order for a place on the left.
His impressive pace will also benefit Bournemouth’s counter attacks, and his potential partnership with the similarly rapid Joshua King is one that could force teams to think twice before attacking The Cherries, lest they get caught out on the break. At any rate, it certainly helps compensate for the loss of Callum Wilson’s injection of pace to the side.
On paper, the former Porto player can play anywhere behind the striker, but it would seem the most straightforward for him to claim the left side as his own, and he can certainly cover for Matt Ritchie, if not outright evict him from the much-coveted spot on the right-hand side of the attack.
Explosive to a fault
In the summer of 2014, Iturbe’s name was on everyone’s lips. After a productive loan spell at Verona in 2013-14 (where he scored eight goals in thirty-three appearances and made four assists, with 37.5% of his total shots hitting the target that season), there was fierce competition for his signature. Roma fought off some serious interest from league champions Juventus to sign the forward for €22 million on a five-year deal.
It went badly wrong. Instead of hitting it off with Gervinho, the 22-year-old has stumbled his way to three goals in 39 league appearances for Roma, and just one goal in 19 games this season. The starts have become substitute appearances, and Iturbe’s stock has fallen dramatically in 18 months.
Bournemouth represents an opportunity for Iturbe to right those wrongs, no doubt, but it is the hope rather than expectation driving this particular train.
Iturbe’s past includes a falling out with Porto and some very unsavoury rumours about the falling through of his proposed move to Watford. The forward was very taken by Bournemouth’s faith in him and highlighted it as the key factor behind the south coast of England as his destination of choice.
Rather ironic a move, one would think, given that collective effort, team spirit and unity have been some of the key reasons for the positivity at Bournemouth and their fight for survival.
A suspect track record is compounded by a lack of consistency. His struggles at Roma have done everything to convince the average viewer that his spell at Verona was an outlier, a deviation from the norm rather than the norm itself.
His goal scoring record is also a point of contention; it is certainly serviceable for a support role, but one wonders if Bournemouth would have been better served to go after a talent who can play the main man.
Effective or disruptive?
Juan Iturbe’s loan move to Bournemouth represents an exciting acquisition for their supporters and a chance for the player to redeem himself. His driven, effervescent personality and style of play are an unchangeable part of him, for better or worse.
Whether the loan signing from Roma will disrupt a cohesive, harmonious squad balance at the Vitality Stadium or prove to be the sprinkling of magic dust that elevates Bournemouth’s attacking play to another level is a question that will be answered in the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, it will be a headline-making five months, whether the combustible Iturbe goes to one extreme or another.