Iker Muniain 19 Striker Athletic Club
The most telling thing about Iker Muniain is his age. The kid is still only 19 years old. He doesn’t turn 20 for another month and yet he is still a more complete player than some manage in their whole careers. He is quite frankly brilliant. He was close to brilliant this time last year and he hasn’t let us down; even if there have been causes for concern.
The last year in Muniain’s life has been pretty good by any yard stick. Any comparison, relative scale or rank would tell you that 2012 went really well for the teenager. Perhaps playing over 60 games for club and country was asking a little too much but his performances were so strong that it was hard to make a valid reason for him to be dropped.
Muniain’s year got off to the perfect start when he debuted for full Spanish side during February’s friendly win over Venezuela. His inclusion did spark immediate suggestions that an unlikely place in the Euro 2012 squad was on the cards; though they were quickly laughed off by the player himself. Iker’s year continued to soar as he starred in Athletic’s incredible Europa League and Copa Del Rey runs. Though Muniain and Athletic were beaten finalists in both, their style of play was a breath of fresh air through European football.
The 19 year-old earned himself plenty of new admirers outside of Spanish borders thanks to his performances in the Europa League. The comprehensive victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United caused many not too familiar with Spanish football to really take note. Without even having a chance to worry about it, Muniain did “it” against an English club and cast aside the cloud that has hung over Zlatan Ibrahimovic for much of his career.
Iker Muniain is the future of world football and yet he seems to be a perfectly decent, well-rounded young man at the same time. Excluding whatever we saw at the Olympics. He has self-confidence but it never crosses the line into arrogance; and he knows that the best thing he can do right now is continue to play football. Athletic, the club itself might just be a little bit of a mess right now and his departure may be hurried along a year or two sooner than it needs to be as a result; but we feel confident he’ll know playing time is important when he considers what to do.
Ideally, he’ll think along those lines when the options for his next club are presented to him. Muniain doesn’t need to become just another player in an over-inflated squad with a manager who has a very short job expectancy. He is a wonderfully gifted attacking player and it would be a real shame to see his limitless potential curtailed by too much time on the side lines.
Tiny, mobile and with the most delicate touch, Iker Muniain is another product of Spain’s incredible footballing academies. He is probably the pick of the current under-21 bunch and that’s a mighty fine bunch. It’s quite obvious to see why he has excelled so much playing under Marcelo Bielsa. His energy and movement is similar to the trio of Chilean forward players that performed so well under him at the 2010 World Cup.
This season so far has seen a lull. The Olympics for the entire Spanish team were not good. The whole squad got it wrong and Iker unfortunately acted like brat as they huffed and puffed their way out of the tournament at the group stages; even if there were flashes of brilliance along the way.
Since then, he has struggled to recapture the headline-grabbing form that he showed as Athletic romped their way through three competitions last season before ending up trophy less. He has been moved into a more central position, something that the player himself has longed for and has looked like a man working hard to develop himself in that role.
It hasn’t helped Muniain at all that the whole team are struggling. Athletic have spluttered their way through the league and quite simply failed to get going in Europe. It’s made it tricky for Muniain to kick on as a player. At only 19, he isn’t quite capable of winning matches single-handedly, though he’s not far off.
His good standard of crossing has got better and his control of a football - which was already very good - has become just a little crisper though there is still a worry that he waste too many chances in front of goal. From January 1st up until the start of this month, Opta recorded that Muniain fired in 30 shots in La Liga without finding the back of the net. On the plus side, his glorious ability to run at near break-neck speed while in the control of the ball saw him skinning 2.3 opponents every 90 minutes. Jefferson Montero and Lionel Messi are the only La Liga regulars to complete dribbles more often than Iker this year.
Muniain seemingly has it all going for him. His wonderful feet, excellent passing range and size-defying strength earmark him as a player that could be, if needed, just dropped into the Spanish national team. No question, he’d flourish.
For now, he and his under-21 team-mates have the small matter of the UEFA European under-21 Championships to defend. Haven’t we got round to mentioning how 18 year-old Muniain was part of the winning squad in 2011? Silly us.
The only worry is the temper than we’ve alluded to. Six yellow cards in 25 league appearance so far in 2012 is frankly too many for a player that only engages in two tackles per match and then there was the Olympics. Spain weren’t the now expected juggernaut of football that seems to follow any Spanish side to an international tournament. They were poor and perhaps a little unlucky but it will be the petulant scenes in the wake of the final game against Honduras that people will hope to see less of from Muniain.
He has been a regular feature of La Liga for the couple of years and should either of the big two clubs in Spain get their way; he’ll stay there. Just know that when the doors do open and the player, Athletic and Bielsa all agree a deal can be reached, the bidding war will something special.
“What started as a fabulous year ended with a bit of a whimper. Being asked to play 63 games in a season was maybe just too much for one so young, but it tailed off badly. We'll remember his Europa League performances more than the bile-spouting, angry young man that was part of the disappointing Spain Olympic team, but finding those levels again is a big job.” - John Dobson (European Football Correspondent)
“Still continues to develop and as expected under Marcelo Bielsa he's ventured into central areas more. At some point it's necessary for him to take control though, be it with goals or as a creative force.” - David Cartlidge (Spanish Football Correspondent)
“The Catalan press labelled him 'Bart' Muniain and there's even a picture of the Simpson boy atop his Twitter page. He might never become that famous, but Iker is already among the game's great mischief makers.” - Jon Holmes (Sky Sports)
B Still *THE* future star of world football
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