Who scores the most in Serie A? Maybe Cristiano Ronaldo, the leader of the bombing race? He has 25 goals in 26 games. The Portuguese superstar scores every 88 minutes. Romelu Lukaku is only slightly behind him: 21 goals in 28 matches, differs every 106 minutes. All of them, however, are superior to Luis Muriel. He is the third on the list of top scorers with 18 goals, but he spends much less time on the field. Hence the phenomenal 57 minutes per goal. Paradoxically, Muriel cannot even be called the leading player of Atalanta. The Colombian has become Gasperini's favorite joker, who loves releasing him as a substitute in the second half.
Muriel has long been listed as a promising one. In 2010, he, a very young striker, was acquired by Udinese, a well-known staging post on the way to top clubs. The Friulians spent two seasons running Luis on leases (Granada and Lecce), and in the 2012/13 season, they finally tried it at home. It turned out promisingly: the forward scored 11 goals in 22 matches and made a harmonious duet with Antonio Di Natale's local legend. Even then, Muriel's speed and technique were noted, allowing him to play from field depth. It seemed that a new star was growing up in the Udi people.
The parallels were one steeper than the other. Di Natale compared his partner to Alexis Sanchez, who left Udinese a little earlier, in 2011, Muriel looked like an ideal replacement for the Chilean. At home, he was put on a par with Ivan Valenciano, a local legend of the 1990s. Valenciano is one of the top scorers in the Colombian championship history, having hammered one and a half hundred goals for Atletico Junior alone, Muriel's home club. An interesting line from Valenciano's biography: in 1993, he tried his hand at Atalanta, where he did not take root at all (five matches, not a single goal) and never came to European clubs again.
Above all, this was dominated by the main comparison in Muriel's career. Ronaldo is a "nibbler". "Phenomenon". Of course, the idol of childhood and who among the South Americans of that generation did not root for him? Also, Ronaldo and Muriel are similar in playstyle. The dribbling of the Colombian is surprisingly reminiscent of the movements of the legendary Brazilian. The same plasticity, dexterous leg movements, and sudden body tilt, leaving rivals somewhere on the sidelines. The classic attack is a high-speed dash behind the backs of the defenders. The favorite trick outflanks the goalkeeper, which has now become exotic.
Muriel and Ronaldo are also similar in appearance. Alas, this is not a compliment, because one of Luis's problems was being overweight. You could easily see the tummy protruding from under the Colombian's T-shirt. Francesco Guidolin, who worked with him in Udinese, demanded to lose at least a few pounds. Muriel made excuses, they say, the structure of the body is. The real problem, however, was his legendary laziness. Luis himself talked about Granada's times, where he somehow went to bed on a Friday afternoon and did not get up until Monday morning. "But insomnia did not torment me even before my debut in Serie A," the striker was looking for the advantages of his lifestyle.
The mentality has become an obstacle on the way to the top. The next two seasons in Udinese were unsuccessful: Muriel was overly keen on dribbling and forgot about the striker goals' main function. After four goals in the 2013/14 season and the "dry" autumn of 2014, they no longer saw the new Alexis in him and were easily released to Sampdoria.
There the Colombian cheered up a little. The 2016/17 season was especially good: the Blucherchiati under Marco Giampaolo's leadership became one of the brightest and most unusual teams in the league, and the trio of Muriel (11 goals per championship), Quagliarella, and Bruno Fernandes shone in front. True, it was not without a scandal. Muriel converted a penalty in an away game with Udinese and was so frankly happy about the goal that he provoked an adverse reaction from the ex-teammates. The scuffle ended with the mutual removal of Luis and Danilo, the Udi captain.
Atalanta was growing more potent in the summer of 2019 on the eve of the Champions League debut and could afford to spend more than usual. One of the newcomers was Ruslan Malinovsky, the other was Luis Muriel, for whom they paid 15 million euros. The investment seemed quite risky, as Duvan Zapata successfully played in the center of the attack. The newcomer, however, already in the first match proved his readiness: coming on as a substitute in the match with SPAL, he managed to issue a double. Muriel's productive appearances from the bench became Atalanta's new weapon, but on occasion, Luis could shine at the base - which was the cost of a hat-trick in the match with Udinese, where he did not need additional motivation. The final 18 goals for the championship were a real breakthrough. "Forever Promising" proved to be written off early.
What is the secret of Gasperini's approach? First, tactics. Muriel acts closer to the goal so that he is not tempted to indulge in meaningless dribbling. He is now more focused on finishing, which is confirmed by Instant statistics: 4.1 hits in 90 minutes now and 4.6 last season, versus 2.8 - 3.4 in previous stages of his career. Luis suited the commanding principles of Atalanta: speed in the center of the field, an abundance of vertical passes, freedom of creativity in the last third. In such conditions, you can stay a little Ronaldo and diversify the team's game: the powerful Zapata was at the base, the struggle with which tired the defenders, and in the second half, the nimble Muriel appeared.
The second aspect is mentality. Gasperini knows how to reach out to very complex individuals like Ilicic. In the case of Muriel, it seems that we are talking about deliberately protecting the player from unnecessary responsibility. When they expected Louis's feats and demanded to be a leader, he was lost in character strength; the guy was timid, introverted by nature. In Atalanta, Muriel was made "the first reserve", from which they do not require too much, but right now, he started playing as expected of him eight years ago.
Now that Gomez is gone and Ilicic is unstable, Muriel has a chance to gain a foothold at the base. Gasperini is increasingly using a duo of Colombian strikers in front, which complements each other well, but is in no hurry to burden Luis. For example, in the match with Udinese, the coach unexpectedly replaced Muriel during the break, although he made a double (by the way, one of the goals came from a pass from Malinovsky). It is characteristic that the substituted goal scorer did not express any concern - on the contrary, he was smiling cheerfully on the bench.
It seems that sports ambitions are not particularly characteristic of him. Muriel just plays for the pleasure of his and the audience. But over the years, he became wiser, increased in concentration, and no longer allows himself infantile antics. The extraordinary talent of this player was nevertheless managed to be applied for collective purposes. By the age of 29, it turned out that all these loud analogies were not born out of anything. Cutting videos with his tricks have always been quite popular, but if earlier Luis worked miracles from time to time, according to his mood, now he is enchanting in almost every match. Maybe score from a free-kick; the match with Real Madrid is an example of that.
Last summer, when Ciro Immobile received the Golden Boot, there were many outraged voices since Robert Lewandowski, a priori, could not play the same number of matches in the championship. There were even suggestions to introduce the fire rate and hand over the prize, focusing on it, not on the total number of goals. Well, in that case, the main contender for "Boots" would be a smiling striker from Atalanta, who scores more often than Ronaldo-Portuguese and deserves a comparison with Ronaldo-Brazilian.