At full flight he is a frightening prospect. A player with great pace and dribbling ability, Luis Muriel has bamboozled the best stoppers calcio has to offer. A year ago, then Lecce Coach Serse Cosmi was confident Muriel was the real deal. “He’s a pure talent, who needs to improve because sometimes things can stall for a player of his age. But he has great qualities. And he is very similar to Ronaldo.”
Muriel responded humbly. “When I first heard that, it gave me great joy to be compared to Ronaldo, it made me proud. But I took it calmly because I know I have not yet achieved anything and there's a long way to go to get close to Ronaldo's level.” He also drew comparisons to the other Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s Cristiano.
Unfortunately for current boss Francesco Guidolin, the 21-year-old has taken on another of the Brazilian legend’s traits and recently appeared somewhat overweight. This led the Udinese tactician to offer a warning in the build-up to Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Genoa. “Muriel is training very well to get back into shape, but I’m sorry I will continue to harass him on his physical form until he reaches peak fitness.” Given he has failed to last 90 minutes in all seven starts this season, it adds credence to Guidolin’s concerns.
The Colombian speedster appeared as a second half substitute at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, but a week earlier was nowhere to be seen during the Friulani’s slender win over Torino. It was the first time since Week 17 Muriel had not featured. Maicosuel started in his place both times.
It was the second instance this term the tactician publicly lambasted Muriel. In July he roared: “First of all I must say that Muriel needs to lose weight, at least five kilograms before speaking with me. He must discover the silhouette of an athlete. To be at the top and in order to be considered an athlete then you must have the physique and you must work hard.”
In between the public warnings, Muriel has endured a topsy-turvy season. In September he was ruled out for three months due to a microfracture in his hip. But when he returned the impact was immediate. Muriel was on target in his second match back. He would add another three goals before being dropped.
A dangerous partnership with Antonio Di Natale – who claims “Muriel will be a top player within two years” - was brewing. Now its future rests in the desire of the former Deportivo Cali man. This was reiterated by teammate Maurizio Domizzi in pre-season. “There’s little we can do to help him. It all depends on him now.”
Last term on loan at Lecce, the general play and goals of Muriel – seven from 29 appearances – were a driving force behind the Salentini’s ultimately failed bid for survival. He improved as his debut Italian campaign wore on and netted five of those seven during the second half of the campaign. It prompted Cosmi’s words of praise and had Muriel on the radar of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Fellow Serie A outfits Milan and Inter lodged bids with the Zebrette. Both were rejected. English trio Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool were said to be interested. During his time at the Stadio Friuli, Juventus have been linked. Yet would the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson or Antonio Conte accept this unprofessional attitude? Probably not.
To squander his talent would be a shame considering the promise Muriel has shown. He was recently crowned the best young player in Serie A at the Gran Gala del Calcio. It is now up to the striker to heed Guidolin’s warning. He is at a club with a proven record in nurturing talent and one which will not stand in his way should a big side call in the future. But given his current issue, will a club of that stature be knocking doors down?