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In this second episode of “Evolution“, we take a slightly unconventional approach in trying to understand Luis Muriel, a slightly unconventional player.

Ever since his impressive first season in the Serie A, Luis Muriel has been burdened with the usual expectations and labels that accompany any rising football talent: wonder kid, future Ballon d’Or – you name it. Now, aged 25, and having so-far failed to meet such grandiose anticipations, Muriel is buried with labels of a different kind, again the usual: waste of talent and unfulfilled potential being the cliché expressions. Today, “Evolution” swipes all of these labels aside, in an attempt to understand exactly who Muriel is and who he can actually become.

Luis is an erratic player and, as such, statistics are of hardly any help when trying to appreciate him – he simply cannot be thought of so systematically. Rather, Muriel must be observed psychologically, emotionally even, if one is to grasp just what type of player he is.

However, some information about Muriel’s first few seasons in Italy will be useful to set out the context in which the player finds himself currently. Muriel’s first two seasons in the Serie A, with Lecce and Udinese, were ultimately a success: playing approximately 3000 minutes, Muriel buried 18 goals and served 8 assists (Via WhoScored). Aged 20, these impressive numbers earned the Colombian the burdensome and uncomfortable comparison with the Brazilian Ronaldo. In the next two years at Udinese, conditioned by a serious femoral fracture, Muriel only played 2700 minutes, totaling a mere 8 goals and 6 assists. A striker with such poor goal-scoring numbers became an easy target for the mainstream media and Muriel was heavily criticised; the young prodigy of the first two seasons was already forgotten. This year, at Sampdoria, Muriel has so far collected 6 goals and one assist, making this his personal best in the past four years. The questions that naturally arise are the following: what is the source of Muriel’s inconsistency? Is the current season the demonstration that he can still live up to past expectations? Let’s find out.

Let Muriel roam free:

As well as Ronaldo, the mainstream media have often likened Muriel to Antonio Cassano. For a number of reasons, more negative than positive, this is an easy comparison to make. Although fundamentally different players, the two share a crystalline footballing talent as well as a notorious tendency to gain weight, to be inconsistent and to be lazy on the pitch. However, when evaluated less superficially, the stark difference between the two is clear. Unlike Cassano’s, Muriel’s approach to the game is never of an arrogant nature, never boastful. Quite the opposite, the Colombian often seems to be easily demotivated, sad, insecure of his own means. Now, as opposed to arrogance, which is inherent to someone’s character, a lack of self-confidence is something that can easily be changed for the better. At the moment, this is resulting key in Muriel’s performances – he is playing regularly and is clearly at the heart of coach Giampaolo’s plans. It seems to be paying off.

Hence, unlike many so-called “wasted talents”, it is not an excess of confidence that has halted Muriel in his tracks. Instead, faced by harsh criticism and tactical boundaries, the player has been stopped by a sense of insecurity, of cluelessness.

As anticipated, the solution doesn’t come rationally, and isn’t indicated by statistics or patterns. A player of Muriel’s mixture of talent and emotional sensitivity must simply be allowed to roam free. Instead of being criticised and demotivated, Muriel is a special player that should be appreciated for his unique qualities. As said, he is one of those rare players that must be viewed under an almost romantic lens. Attempting to mould Muriel into the rigid tactical impositions of European football will never work. Alternatively, what is key for Muriel’s future development is giving him confidence in his own means – he is an unconventional player and that is precisely where his specialness resides.

Tactical discipline? Meh

Muriel’s strengths are what have often been highlighted as his weaknesses: his instinct-led decisions, his lack of participation during the game, his inconsistency. Muriel must be understood as one of those players who can be allowed to fade away for most of the game, with the consciousness that he has the ability and skills to change the course of the match at any given moment. In fact, where Muriel lacks in tactical discipline and defensive work-rate, he compensates with outstanding physical attributes and technique. Trying to force him into becoming an organised and diligent footballer will not only fail, but also it will limit his exceptional assets.

In the following GIFS, a glimpse of what Muriel is capable of doing when he has the chance, during games where he is otherwise totally absent.

Muriel resists Laxalt’s charge on the left, accelerates and escapes the right Genoa marking – all at once.

At will, Muriel turns on the first defender and simply burns the second one.

No description needed.

Another example of Muriel’s outstanding technical ability.

Back to the comparison with Cassano, something that must be spoken of is the question of Muriel’s weight. always at the heart of debates about the player. Currently, Muriel weighs 79kg, at 178cm of height, which makes him stacked, solid, as opposed to fat. In the past, however, Muriel was often targeted as underperforming due to his excess weight. When faced by public criticism from his ex-managers Cosmi and Guidolin, who accused him of having unhealthy eating habits, Muriel replied that there was no correlation between his weight and his performances. The Colombian said that in his first, and successful, season with Udinese, he weighed 84kg and that in the next year, where he performed poorly, he weighed 82kg. So is Muriel’s interpretation correct or does he need a nutritionist? In our romantic view of Muriel, it seems, once more, that happiness and confidence are at the heart of his performances – if eating a little makes him happy, let him eat. Once again, one must acknowledge that someone with Muriel’s physical structure will never look like Cristiano Ronaldo. He will have to compensate by relying on his other talents. Nonetheless, sensibly speaking, Muriel will have to ensure that his weight is not excessive – it seems that at the moment there is no problem of sorts.

Luis Muriel is one of a kind – a player of immense talent and potential, albeit with some physical and tactical limitations. These limits, however, are purely theoretical when you possess the Muriel’s qualities, and this is what the player must rely on in order to shine. Unconventional, perhaps dangerous (?) advice for an unconventional and unpredictable player. 

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