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Scout Report: Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)

After Atletico goalkeeper David de Gea, we move across Spain to cast an eye (or even two) over the burgeoning buzz surrounding Athletic Bilbao’s slippery attacker Iker Muniain…

Feet of fury: Muniain has burst onto the scene in Spain

Feet of fury: Muniain (right) has burst onto the scene in Spain

Age: 16

Position: Left or right winger, second striker

Clubs: Athletic Club Bilbao

Bursting on to the scene to become the youngest goalscorer in La Liga history, diminutive Athletic Bilbao prodigy Iker Muniain immediately earned himself the moniker “the Spanish Messi”.

Such comparisions seem to be de rigueur for talented young footballers these days, even if Muniain’s record-breaking goal and ability to play on either wing might more accurately make him “the Spanish James Milner”.

Either way, the boy has some serious talent.

Just 16 and standing barely 5’5” tall, Muniain has nonetheless exploded on to the scene this season in a way that has major clubs across the globe sitting up and taking notice.

The well respected football website, IMScouting, said of Muniain, “it is clear that this young player is a true gem, a genius who is destined for stardom in the near future.” Such praise does not come lightly.

Making his first-team debut in the club’s Europa League qualifier against (rather aptly) Swiss side BSC Young Boys, it took until just the second leg of the tie for the winger to get himself on the scoresheet. He has since scored in the group stages for Bilbao against Austria Wien, proving he certainly has an eye for goal.

960x

Hair apparent: You have to be talented to pull off the mullet

More impressively for someone of his age, Muniain has shown a great willingness to track back and help out his side defensively too. IMScouting noted this trait, saying “he has a hunger in the eyes that reminds many of Wayne Rooney”.

His team-mates with Los Leones are acutely aware of the talent of their newest squad member. Club legend Jose Etxeberria has only the highest praise for his fresh-faced team-mate, who has been mainly deployed behind striker Fernando Llorente this season despite being more suited to the wings.

“A footballer of this class integrates themselves very well – football only has one language, and Iker has mastered it,” Etxeberria told local station Radio Euskadi.

“It’s very positive news, even aside from his goalscoring contribution to the team. Muniain will certainly be a quality player, not just for this team.

“If he continues along this path, I believe he will become a world class player.”

There are still areas of Muniain’s game that need work. His heading, unsurprisingly for someone so slight, is not up to scratch, and he struggles physically with bigger opponents at the professional level. But time and practice will improve both areas, and it shouldn’t be long before Muniain’s ability is worthy of the very highest stages.

My name is...: Muniain seems comfortable on the big stage

My name is...: Muniain seems comfortable on the big stage

Muniain scored that record-breaking league goal against Vallodolid at 16 years and 289 days old — having only come on as a 77th minute substitute — and the increased spotlight does not seem to have harmed his progress. It has lead many observers to be confident in their assertion that he has not just the talent but also the mental fortitude to be one of the game’s very best.

Contracted until 2012 at San Mames, if he keeps putting in such exemplary performances the No. 27 will nevertheless soon be attracting serious attention. Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all reportedly been watching the youngster since he was 12 years old, and will certainly consider bids.

With Bilbao’s transfer policy notable in that they only sign or play players from the Basque region, Muniain’s significance to the club is undoubtedly greater than it might have been elsewhere. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Bilbao — an admirable mid-table club restricted by their policy — will have the ambition or ability be able to hold on to this mercurial youngster for too much longer.

Listen to the noise as Muniain makes his debut at San Mames:

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November 3, 2009 - Posted by | Sport, World Football | , ,

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