Hundreds of players have been dubbed as the “next Maradona” or the “next Pele”, and most have failed to live up to that mantle and the burden of expectation that falls on them when compared with one of the world’s greats. But rarely do you hear of anyone being described as the “next Wayne Rooney”. Maybe because Wayne is still only 24, or because his style of play is so unorthodox. But, according to Four Four Two magazine, there is one who has been compared to the Manchester United striker, dubbed as the “Basque Rooney”, Athletic Bilbao forward Iker Muniain.
A product of the Basque side, Muniain burst onto the scene in July 2009, becoming the youngest ever-player for Bilbao when he came on as a substitute against Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys in a Europa League qualifier, aged 16 years, 7 months and 11 days. Muniain then scored in the return leg to send Bilbao through to the group stages of the competition, also entering the record books to become the youngest player to score for the club.
In August, the forward made his La Liga debut against Espanyol and became the youngest ever player to score in the league when he netted in the 2-2 draw with Valladolid in October, aged 16 years and 289 days). Muniain has also hit the target against the notoriously dirty defence of Valencia and earned rave reviews against Zaragoza, when the youngster turned provider and set up two goals in the match. This led Bilbao manager Joaquin Caparros to say his young starlet had a, “built-in GPS and eight gears.” Bilbao great Joseba Etxeberria also talked up Muniain to Radio Euskadi:
“A footballer of this class integrates themselves very well – football only has one language, and Iker has mastered it.
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.”
Muniain has been compared to Rooney due to his bullish nature, partnered with his attacking instincts and a never-say-die attitude. He is fearless, and whilst not being a prolific goalscorer, will work hard for the team, just like Rooney. Bilbao has signed the youngster up until 2015, after the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Man City were caught sniffing around their young prodigy.
If Muniain can stay at a club like Bilbao, which restricts itself to using locally-produced players instead of bringing in expensive players, for a few years then he could become a real success in La Liga. Too many young players have their heads turned by the glamour of a Barcelona or a Real Madrid and then get lost, unable to break into the first team and disappear into the wilderness.
Muniain clearly has a lot of potential and is the latest in a long line of Bilbao academy products that have broke into the first team, which include former Spanish internationals Joseba Etxeberria and Santiago Ezquerro, as well as Basque midfield prodigy Javi Martinez, who has been previously linked with Liverpool.
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