The new Porto signing could not help feel pride at being mentioned in the same breath as Messi, but pleaded that he be judged on his own merits as a playerPorto's new Argentine starlet Juan Manuel Iturbe has admitted that he is flattered by comparisons to Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi, as he gears up to represent the Albiceleste in next month's Under 20 World Cup.
The ex-Cerro Porteno player was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Paraguay while still a child, and represented the Guarani at various youth levels. In 2010, however, a contract dispute with Cerro saw the Argentine FA welcome him with open arms, and he has affirmed several times that his international future lies with Argentina.
The 18-year-old playmaker has been frequently compared to Lionel Messi, even gaining the nickname 'La Pulguita' in recognition of his talents. Iturbe stated in an interview that he was delighted, if a little embarrassed, to be linked with such illustrious company.
“My team-mates have lumbered me with ‘Pulguita’ (Little Flea) – they call me it all the time," Iturbe told Fifa.com.
"I find it a little awkward because Messi is the best in the world, a truly unique player, though I do feel a sense of pride when they say it, of course.”
Iturbe has been included in Walter Perazzo's Under 20 squad to fight for the World Cup in Colombia this July and August, and is expected to be one of the stars of the team. Messi was scintillating when he led Argentina to success in the 2005 version, as was a young Argentinos Juniors prospect by the name of Diego Maradona in winning a gold medal in 1979.
'La Pulguita' though insisted that he did not feel pressure to follow in the footsteps of the nation's former wonderkids.
“The goal is to do ourselves proud and to battle to become world champions," Iturbe affirmed. "Argentina are always among the favourites, no matter the tournament.
“I have to laugh when people compare me to Messi," he said. "I’m just starting out, while what he does every day at Barcelona is truly impressive. But let me be as clear as possible: I want to make my own mark on the game.”
Argentina will face Mexico, England and North Korea in Group A of the tournament, with the first match scheduled for July 29.