Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain has been likened to the Argentinean wizard Lionel Messi but is he actually as good as him? The 18 year old has been linked with Liverpool in recent days, so what do we know of him?
A product of Bilbao’s youth academy, the Basque became the team’s youngest ever player in July 2009 when he came on as a substitute against Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys in a Europa League qualifier, aged just 16 years, 7 months and 11 days. He then became the youngest player ever to score for the club when he scored in the return leg, helping Bilbao into the group stages.
In August 2009, Muniain made his league debut against Espanyol, and it wasn’t long before he broke another record, by scoring his first league goal against Real Valladolid in a 2-2 draw, making him the youngest player to ever score in La Liga, aged just 16 years and 289 days.
When he initially broke into the side, he played mostly as a support striker, but he prefers to play on the wings, and this campaign he has established himself as a left winger in Joaquin Caparros’s midfield. His style of play is rightly compared to Lionel Messi as at 5ft 6, he possesses great speed and agility on the ball with a similar low centre of gravity, and like the Argentine genius, he is also truly two footed, and possesses great technique and ball control.
Playing in the top league at the tender age of 16, Muniain has shown a great deal of maturity beyond his years. He has great tactical awareness, and this was emphasised by his manager Caparros when after he provided two assists against Real Zaragoza last season, he said that Muniain possesses a “built-in GPS and eight gears.” Not only is he tactically astute in the offensive third though, he can also track back runners and has a never-say-die attitude which has led some in Spain to compare him favourably to Wayne Rooney.
He never shies away from physical encounters despite his diminutive stature and his hunger for the game is greatly admired. He loves to play the game at high tempo, and he has added goal scoring to his locker this season by scoring nine goals from his left wing position.
Still, there are areas that Muniain will need to improve upon. He is not physically strong, and can be pushed off the ball a little bit too easily. You can imagine that opposition defenders would make mince meat of the player in the Premier League, but with his ball control, speed and skill, he may just be too quick for many defenders, and you only have to look as far as Lionel Messi to know that size and strength isn’t everything in the modern game.
So, in conclusion, Muniain is certainly a promising player. Whether he would be interested in a move to Liverpool is up for debate, but he would certainly fit into the strategy of bringing in quality young players to Anfield.
Read more of David’s articles at Live4Liverpool