Juan Iturbe and his club Hellas Verona have a lot in common. They have both only just made it to Serie A this season, emerging as surprise packages much to the delight of neutrals.
Well, in truth Hellas had graced the Italian top flight before. Once proud title-winners in 1985, the club slipped into decline and spent 11 years battling to return to the first division after relegation in 2002.
The Argentine faced a similar fight in his career before arriving at the Bentegodi. Tagged with the common moniker ‘the next Messi’ as a teenager, Iturbe’s stock fell significantly after moving to Europe with Porto in 2010.
But his successful loan spell with Hellas this season has put him back on the radar of top clubs, including Chelsea and Liverpool. And has the Mastini in the running for near-unthinkable Europa League qualification after just winning promotion last term.
Andrea Mandorlini’s men faced a direct rival in the race to achieve this goal on Monday in Lazio.
Hellas twice fell behind at the Stadio Olimpico, but first fought back via a Marquinho strike - and second through the main man, Iturbe, who applied a clinical finish to equalise at 2-2.
The 20-year-old then played a key role in the build-up to the Veronese side’s third, and then forced opponent Senad Lulic into a rash challenge with a bit of trickery to have him sent off.
An admittedly dodgy late penalty for Lazio ultimately denied Hellas victory, but the draw keeps them two points off the final Europa League spot with two matches to play.
All told, Iturbe finished the day with six dribbles and five fouls won as he misplaced just four passes - in addition to his goal, of course.
His display laid down yet another marker of his superb talent. But even more importantly, it showed he is not one to shy away from the big occasion.
Competing for an unlikely European qualification has raised Iturbe’s stock further. It has given the winger invaluable experience and should make him even more attractive to top sides.
Hellas have revealed that they will pay a €15million fixed price to Porto to take ownership of Iturbe this summer, reportedly with the intention to sell him on to the highest bidder.
Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs have all been linked with a move for his services and would all do well to pick him up in pursuit of their respective ambitions next season.
The trio may face extra competition from AS Roma and Real Madrid, so the battle for his signature will be fierce, but the victor may just get a game-changer that has demonstrated he is ready to step up to the next level.