The search for the ‘new Maradona’ was instant and widespread in Argentina following the legendary attacking midfielder’s career coming to an end in 1998.
Many, including the mercurial Juan Román Riquelme, Pablo Aimar and Carlos Tévez, were touted as the next big thing in Argentine football – that was until a certain Lionel Messi showed up.
Despite the current Ballon d’Or holder still setting records and captivating the football world at Barcelona, the search for the ‘new Messi’ seems to be already underway.
Quite a few have been touted as having the potential to follow in the footsteps of the current best player in the world, with Juan Iturbe apparently a chosen one with a future superstar billing.
Born in Buenos Aires to Paraguayan parents, Iturbe’s footballing journey began outside of Argentina. The skillful attacking midfielder made his debut for Paraguay’s Cerro Porteño as a 16-year-old back in 2008, and quickly rose to prominence and to the attention of the European scouting system.
Iturbe starred for Paraguay’s under-17 and 20 sides, and even was handed a full senior debut for his adopted nation in a friendly against Chile in 2009. However, after a disagreement with the powers that be, the playmaker defected back to his motherland, and became involved in the Argentina under-20 set up.
After starring for the under-20 side throughout 2009 and dazzling onlookers with his shows of skill, technical ability and balance, it seemed like only a matter of time before Iturbe shot to superstardom.
In 2010, Porto won the race for 17-year-old Iturbe’s signature and the stage was set for the latest Argentine attacking prodigy to take the footballing world by storm.
However, with the wave of expectation that washed over Iturbe, his time in Portugal was distinctly underwhelming. The South American teenager failed to live up to his billing, making only six appearances domestically for the Estádio do Dragão side, and spending protracted time in the reserve ranks.
A loan move to River Plate at the start of this year gave Iturbe some regular playing time and his confidence seemingly returned. Upon returning to Porto it was clear that an assured place in the side for this season was still not forthcoming, and the loan switch to Verona materialised.
Since his move to Serie A, Iturbe has finally displayed the abilities that led him to be named the ‘new Messi’ in the first place. A sublime free-kick against Livorno and an individual effort against Bologna have been the standout of the Argentine’s time in Italy to date.
It is clear to see why Iturbe has been likened to his Barcelona-based countryman; a low sense of gravity, sprightly on the ball and an eye for the elaborate, the 20-year-old’s raw talent is there for all to see.
For the rest of his loan spell in Italy this season, Iturbe will look to get as much football under his belt as possible and continue his excellent start to life with Verona.
Ahead of their game against Cagliari tonight, Verona sit sixth in Serie A, with six wins from their first ten games.
However, this ‘new Messi’ has a lot of work to do to live up to his superstar moniker, but early indications are that he is finally acclimatising to life in Europe. Just how much of an impact the 20-year-old can make in the remainder of the season for a buoyant Verona should be fascinating viewing.