Luis Muriel: The young Colombian making waves in Serie A

(Article first featured on Lovely Left Foot 31/05/12)

It’s fair to say that last season was, for the most part, a good one for Colombian strikers.  Falcao had a brilliant debut campaign for Atlético Madrid with his 36 goals helping them to another Europa League title, confirming his reputation as arguably the best front-to-goal striker in the world right now.  Dorlan Pabón emerged as one of the most exciting players in South America with seven goals in the Copa Libertadores for Atlético Nacional, while Jackson Martínez has continued his good goal scoring form with Jaguares and has reportedly caught the eye of Liverpool.

Admittedly Teo Gutiérrez is one player who has not covered himself in glory.  His acts of buffoonery have ranged from pulling a paintball gun on a team mate to recently lying to his current club Lanús about being on national duty in Colombia when in actual fact he hadn’t been selected at all. 

However, one of the revelations has been young forward Luis Muriel whose good form has seen him rewarded with a first call up to the national team ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers against Peru and Ecuador.

Muriel began his career at Deportivo Cali where he became an over-night sensation in March 2010 with a hat-trick in just his third game for the club.  He went on to score nine goals in eleven games and earned himself a move to Udinese for around €1.5mil just five months later. 

Given his tender age and lack of opportunities he was sent on loan to gain vital experience first at Granada and then this season at Lecce.  Although he hardly featured in Granada’s promotion winning season, his spell at Lecce marked his arrival on the European stage in what has been a breakthrough season for the 21-year-old. 

He notched an impressive seven goals as well as providing a number of assists which, despite ultimately being not enough to save Lecce from relegation, nevertheless showed the abundant talent that the young Colombian clearly possesses. 

Aside from the fact it was his first season of top flight football, what was particularly notable was the range of goals he scored.  He showed fantastic composure, balance and skill against Inter Milan to jink away from two defenders and slot in, while he displayed his fleet footedness and long range shooting for his second against Roma as well as a blend of power and accuracy versus Napoli and Genoa.  These physical and technical attributes made him an absolute handful for defenders up and down the country.

All of this would have been evident to anyone who saw him at the U20 World Cup last year.  He was the focal part of an exciting Colombian side and fired in four goals in five games as the home nation reached the quarter finals.  He scored a brace and won a penalty against France in an opening 4-1 victory; for the first he bamboozled the French defence, leaving one on his backside, after being found with a clever back heel from Michael Ortega while the second was a powerful first time shot following an instinctive dart to the near post. 

He continued his rich vein of form with the only goal of the game against North Korea, shrugging off the goalkeeper and finishing from a tight angle.  He almost had another when a sumptuous 25-yard half-volley cannoned off the crossbar.  He then opened the scoring in a 3-2 thriller against Costa Rica after getting in behind the defence and poking home beyond the onrushing ‘keeper.  National team boss José Pékerman will be hoping he can go on to do the same for the senior national team.

This continued improvement for club and country has justified his reputation as one of Colombia’s biggest talents and has led to interest from a host of top clubs in Italy, Spain and England.  However, it seems that Udinese are keen for Muriel to return to the Stadio Friuli next term.  The Bianconeri exceeded expectations by finishing third in Serie A, securing Champions League football despite losing star trio Alexis Sánchez, Cristián Zapata and Gökhan Inler, and the return of Muriel to bolster their strike force will be almost like a new signing.  The necessity for squad rotation to cope with the rigours of both cup and league competition could see Muriel getting plenty of game time and he should be able to learn plenty from consistently excellent striker Antonio Di Natale. Surrounded with the quality of Isla, Asamoah (if he doesn’t move to Juventus), Badu and Torje he will get plenty of service and in a better team he could well thrive.

The question remains as to whether he is ready to make the step up but should he continue his current trajectory he could grow into a top striker.  He will probably be limited to only a few minutes in the upcoming Colombia matches but nonetheless it marks the dramatic rise of one the country’s brightest jewels and one to keep an eye on.