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The Basque Boy Wonder – What does the future hold for Iker Muniain?
- Updated: 5 May, 2012
In a week when Manchester United’s Premier League title challenge took a huge battering after their 1-0 derby defeat to cross-town rivals City, there were some interesting rumours surrounding the Old Trafford club that may have slipped the attention of some United fans.
Sir Alex Ferguson is not one to rest on his laurels, and reports began to appear in the British media that he was about to launch a summer raid on Athletic Club for their most-prized asset, Iker Muniain. Ferguson has been linked with the youngster before of course, but with the transfer window fast approaching, the time will soon come for any suitors to test the Basque club’s resolve.
The Daily Star suggest United have made the 19-year-old their number one transfer target, however it is clear the Uefe Europa League finalists do not want to sell Muniain. Reports in The Daily Mirror last month claimed Ferguson would have to pay £29.5 million to bring the Spanish international to Old Trafford and quoted the palyer’s agent, Jesus Medina as saying: “Athletic do not want to sell. Whoever wants him must pay his buyout clause at €36million (£29.5million).”
However it is uncertain whether United would be willing to part with such a substantial amount of money for a player who, although blessed with huge potential, is still relatively inexperienced. There will also surely be a number of other interested parties should Athletic decide an offer in the region of £30 million would be enough for them to agree to to sell Muniain.
Iker Muniain made his senior debut on 30 July 2009 in a first-leg tie Europa League qualifying round tie. The young substitute was brought into the fray by Athletic coach Joaquín Capparós just past the hour mark, and the world got its first glimpse of the player touted as the sparkling future of Spanish football.
Muniain was just 16 years, 7 months and 11 days old when he took to the San Mamés pitch against BSC Young Boys, and became the youngest player in Athletics’ competitive history to don the famous shirt. He went one better a week later as he became the club’s youngest ever goal scorer during a 2-1 victory in Switzerland that saw the Basques progress to the next round. Already compared to Lionel Messi, somewhat predictably due to his age and size, Muniain is one of the hottest prospects in the Spanish game today.
Born in the Navarrese capital of Pamplona on 19 December 1992, Muniain spent his formative years honing the breathtaking skills he possesses today on the pitches of his home city. His talent did not go unnoticed for long however, and a number of clubs began to show real interest in the youngster. In reality, there was only one club he would play for.
At the age of 12, Muniain moved to Athletic’s famed youth academy at Lezama and quickly settled into life at the famous club. His progression was rapid and he soon moved through the age groups until he was ready to make his first team bow.
Blessed with sublime technical ability, fantastic vision and a keen eye for goal, the player has been drawing rave reviews since cementing his place in the Athletic starting XI, and is on the radar of a number of the continents top clubs.
This phenomenal rise from youth player to first team regular, was rewarded when he signed his first professional contract with the club just weeks before he turned 17-years-old in December 2009. Normally operating in his preferred position on the right side of midfield, the youngster can also play just behind the centre forward, and on the left side of the team.
With Muniain possessing fantastic control with both feet, in fairness it is easy to see why he draws so many comparisons to the mercurial Messi. The player also has a bullish style that belies his slender frame, earning him the nickname ‘The Basque Wayne Rooney’ from some quarters of the British press.
Last season saw the player become a pivotal part of the Caparrós-led side that finished the season in a respectable sixth-placed position, helping them return to Europe and this season could see him announce himself to audiences outside Spain.
He has now played 85 games and scored 13 goals since that disappointing night against Young Boys in the Europa League – there have also been some big changes at San Mamés since then. The club has a new president Josu Urrutia and coach Caparrós has gone on his way
His replacement, the flamboyant Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, has brought his famed attacking style of football to Bilbao and Athletic have flourished. They are well-placed in the league have have reached the final of both the Copa del Rey and the Uefa Europa League; key to their continued resurgence however, will be the future of their young prodigy.
Recent reports suggest Muniain has a contract release clause of around €40m, which if true would make him a interesting proposition for any big-name suitor. Indeed a cash injection of such proportions would also prove difficult to turn down.
However, Muniain is not yet 20-years-old and both club and player must take heed of the experiences of some of the other bright young things of recent years. Pedro Leon and Sergio Canales being the most high profile of these.
Many see the player heading a new Basque revolution in La Liga, and it could be argued both parties need each other in order to achieve their full potential. Fans will hope that, for the sake of Athletic Club, Iker Muniain remains at San Mamés however, if reports are to be believe, there is a certain Scottish manager at Manchester United who may do everything in his power to convince the player his future lies elsewhere – Old Trafford to be precise.