Every season a young player catches everyone’s eyes, and becomes the next big thing, last season a certain Iker Muniain fell into this category, but after a horrible start to this campaign the young Athletic Bilbao winger seems to have lost his way.
Last year got off to a great start for Muniain, his club were doing well in Europe, with the player earning his first call up to the Spanish national side for a friendly with Venezuela, a match the country won 5-0.
In the Europa league Athletic Bilbao became everybody’s favourite team to watch, as the young pretenders went on to the final, knocking out the likes of Manchester United, and Schalke, with Muniain ,the dazzler, behind striker Fernando Llorente.
This earned him praise from all around Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson amongst the admirers, while comparisons to Lionel Messi, and Ronaldo were being made, as well as calls for the player to be taken by Vicente del Bosque to Euro 2012.
Athletic Bilbao went on to lose, not only the Europa league final 3-0 to Atletico Madrid, but also the Copa del Rey final to Barcelona by the same scoreline, as Muniain failed to make the cut for Euro 2012, and Athletic finished a disappointing 10th in La Liga. A season that promised so much for the 19 year old left him empty handed.
From this point on everything seems to have gone downhill for not only the youngster, but also for his club as well. Starting with the Olympic games in London, with Spain despite being favourites exiting the competition in the group stages, after failing to win any of their games.
Muniain was injured for the first loss against Japan, returning for the next game against Honduras, but the youngster showed a petty side to his game we perhaps hadn’t seen before as Spain lost 1-0 knocking them out of the tournament. The Athletic star was lucky to not see red as he barged into the referee after not receiving a penalty.
Off the field the players club was going through turmoil, with star player Javi Martinez leaving for Bayern Munich, and striker Fernando Llorente also indicating he wanted to leave. Manager Marcelo Bielsa was also gaining headlines for getting involved in a fight with workers building the clubs new stadium, whilst seemingly quitting the club before rejoining soon after.
This did not help the club get off to a good start in La Liga, and with a lack of signings as well, confidence around San Mames appeared to be all but gone. For Muniain, the new season seemed to bring a new role, as instead of playing on the left he was now more central behind the striker, the position the likes of Juan Mata, or David Silva play for their clubs.
Although this is a swap the player himself wanted he seems to be struggling to adapt to his new position, while the fact he played around 59 games the season before also seems to be causing the youngster to lose his form.
So far this year Muniain has made 27 appearances, scoring only once as Athletic exited the Europa league in the group stages, and find themselves in a relegation battle at the bottom of the league after only six wins in 19 games.
In his last match against Rayo Vallecano, the player nicknamed “Bart” for the mischief he creates, looked a shadow of the player he was last year, and looked more than frustrated after being substituted with his side losing 2-0.
It is easy to forget that Muniain is still only 20 years old, and unlike other youngsters who let fame get to their head, he is still grounded, and knows there is a lot of hard work to be done if he is to become one of the worlds best players.
However he definitely has all the attributes needed, break neck speed with the ball at feet, excellent ball control allowing him to coast past people with ease, and with the ball distribution improving the only area the player needs to work on is scoring goals.
It may take a change of scenery for Muniain to reclaim the form that made him so sought after last season, with so much going on behind the scenes at Athletic Bilbao not helping anyone. If he did decide to leave San Mames there is no doubt every top club in Europe will be scrambling for his signature, with Barcelona, and Real Madrid at the front of the queue.
As the old saying goes, form is temporary, class is permanent, and i hope this is true of Muniain, with a new year beginning it gives the player the chance to show exactly why he was at the top of everyone’s “one to watch” lists at the beginning of the season.
This article was written by Michael Bell. You can follow him on twitter @MichaelJBell09
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