Iker Muniain 21 Midfielder Athletic Bilbao Spain
2013 has been…
Two years ago we described Iker Muniain as the future of world football. A wonderfully gifted attacking player, able to drive forward in possession at near break-neck speed; he appeared to be blessed with limitless potential and in a side ready to give him enough game time to grow.
Last year, after some struggles in the league and an utterly frustrating tilt at winning the Olympics with Spain we remained confident in our prediction. He had started 2012 like a man possessed and played a huge role in Athletic Club’s domination of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the Europa League. We attributed his troubles to a few teething problems for a teenager becoming something of a known commodity in the senior game.
For 2013, we’re been forced to pull back on that wild prediction. Only just a little though. We still have every confidence that the tiny and very mobile forward can go on to be a very good footballer; but he’s allowed a couple of his under-21 teammates to slip past him as the outstanding prospects in the game. Muniain has retained his delicate touch. It’s a mark of his impeccable coaching and training that he commands such control over a football and helped mark him out as one of the next crop of Spanish players.
However he has struggled in the last 12-18 months to retain his exhilarating form for both club and country. We hope it’s simply a case of expectations weighting too heavy on his young shoulders, rather than Muniain hitting the ceiling of his potential. All that can help him now is a lot of hard work and some of his Athletic teammates doing a little more to help the team towards vital results and shift the focus away from him.
After a series of thrilling performances in 2011/12, Muniain and Athletic Club were the talk of European football. A relatively young squad with an exciting manager in Marcelo Bielsa, they were many who hoped they would kick on to enjoy a run of seasons in the Champions League. The players and the club failed miserably to do so and Bielsa departed in June of this year. After starring in a breath-taking Europa League run and a domination of Manchester United, Iker has been unable to flourish as a player.
He’s struggled since the London Olympics; but it should just a case of a boy finding his feet as one of Athletic’s star turns. He’s no longer a promising teenager dropped into the line-up and given a freedom by the opposition to cause them problems. He’s now seen as one of the club’s major weapons, and that saw him moved centrally for parts of last season. Opposition sides are now aware of Muniain’s abilities going forward and they set themselves up to frustrate the youngster. He’s rightfully warranted special attention and right now, its working. Muniain isn’t proving he is capable of shaking off the smartest of defenders.
Instead, his frustration has manifested itself in a short temper, a few needless bookings and disappointing reactions as he has struggles to deal with not affecting games in the way he’d like. It’s mixed in with these frustrations that people remember just how young he is. This season will be his fourth in and around the Athletic Club first team; yet he is still only 20. Despite struggling at June’s UEFA under-21 championship and eventually losing his place in the starting line-up, Muniain is one of the few players that will be around when Spain try to retain their crown in 2015. On a personal level, Iker will be looking to win the tournament for a third time in a row.
He has everything going for him. He mixes wonderful feet and an ability to move the ball with size-defying strength in possession. Once he finds a way through his current, expected problems, he’ll flourish again for club and country and we can say we were right all along.
Iker Muniain remains a favourite of the gossip columns, especially in England. After shining in front of Channel 5 cameras, Muniain has been linked to all manner of Premier League clubs. He should have his pick of Europe’s elite when Athletic Club finally throw open the doors and accept offers for the youngster; despite a below par year.
Perhaps, of course, we are being harsh. The grading system we use in The 100 is a relative thing. We judge players on their past performances and weigh them against how the last 12 months have been. That’s why we can’t help but be disappointed by Iker’s year. He’s probably a better player than 60% of the players that will be awarded C+ or even B by us this year. However, he was just so good two years ago; that we can’t be kinder to one of our favourite footballers. Not even scoring the winner against Barcelona a couple of weeks ago will rescue 2013 for him; onwards and upwards to 2014.
"If Koke wins the most improved, then Muniain wins the fallen from grace award. Another one who found it tough under Marcelo Bielsa but with the difference of being the player that suffered most. That fearless nature and quick decision making have evaporated. All hope is not lost, but the lack of form has been for such a sustained period of time now." - David Cartlidge, Spanish football expert
"Iker Muniain has completed 97 take-ons since the start of last season in La Liga; more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Vela." - Opta
C- If he can keep his head down and work hard, he’ll put the last eighteen months behind him quickly