Luis Muriel: The Lowdown On The Colombian Who Can Make Arsenal Forget About Suarez
Antonio Di Natale knows a thing or three about scoring goals so when the Udinese captain stated recently that his team-mate Luis Muriel was set to become a “world-class player” within the next couple of years everyone should take notice.
This time last year the 22-year-old Muriel was manly leading the attack for doomed Lecce who but his stand-out performances encouraged Udinese to end any speculation that he would be loaned out again, having also spent a short spell at Udinese’s Spanish Watford, Granada - and 12 months later he has been one of the key figures as the Zebrette made a late charge to land a Europa League spot behind Fiorentina in fifth place.
Sharing the young Serie A player of the year award with Stephan El Shaarawy last season, as with the AC Milan striker the young Colombian has gone from strength to strength throughout this campaign.
Built like Emile Heskey but with the skills and natural talent that would do Cristiano Ronaldo proud, he has drawn comparisons with the original Ronaldo when he first arrived at Inter with his unerring ability to hit the target on the run.
Blistering pace can take the powerful frontman forward but when in a tight spot a piece of tricky on either foot or sharp turn can get him out of trouble and always with an eye for the opposition penalty area where needless to say he looks to unleash one of his pounding shots.
His time at struggling Lecce meant that he was left to take on opposition defences alone and he did so with some aplomb as AS Roma will testify to when he scored twice in a 4-2 defeat of Luis Enrique’s side, but this year alongside the veteran goal-king Di Natale he has had to become more of a team man and provider of chances.
Certainly the on-field demands of Di Natale coupled with the astute man management of coach Francesco Guidolin, who whipped the youngster into shape in pre-season to lean down some of that natural puppy fat, have been the keys to Muriel’s continued progress.
A hip problem sidelined him for two and a half months from the end of September to mid December but fifteen starts plus seven off the bench in the league produced a very positive return of a 11 goals including strikes in both encounters with Inter and a vital equalizer against Roma which started Udinese’s surge up the table on the back of just one defeat in 11 matches; and included an eight-game winning streak in the run-in.
Offering size and strength, he has looked tailor-made to combine with Di Natale’s jack-in-the-box approach inside the area, but although he does most of his work through the middle he can easily drift out wide to find space to turn and run at defenders.
Fittingly it was Muriel who scored the final goal of another fairytale season for the club from the Friuli region when he coolly finished off Inter in a 5-2 thumping at the San Siro which secured a European football.
Muriel’s breakthrough is another coup for Udinese’s South American scouting system which of course unearthed Alexis Sanchez who was sold to Barcelona for 26million euros.
The club have already upped the ante on their latest find, claiming he is worth 30m plus and if they do cash in this summer then they will do so safe in the knowledge that it was 1.5m euros well spent in bringing the raw youngster over to Europe from Colombian side Deportivo Cali in 2010.
In the meantime, Muriel will want to prove Di Natale’s prediction correct that the future is indeed bright for the exciting, young South American.