Iker Muniain, in a match with Athletic last February.NurPhoto / GETTY
Iker Muniain (Pamplona, 28 years old) seems to have been playing in the First Division all his life, although he has not yet reached thirty. They are 12 seasons in the elite since Joaquín Caparrós gave him the alternative on July 30, 2009 in a Europa League match against Young Boys. A week later he scored his first goal with the red and white shirt, in the second leg, at just 16 years old. This Thursday against Levante he is looking for his third Cup final.
Muniain was the most promising player of a generation, and the most precocious. When he was 14 years old, Caparrós had already included him in a preseason concentration. Little by little he settled in the first team, he was essential for Bielsa and also for Valverde; He managed to play for the Spanish national team, but two serious knee injuries slowed his progression. The first, in 2015, at only 22 years old, he kept 203 days off and forced him to miss 32 games; with the second, in 2018, another 33 meetings. Despite everything, he is already the eighth player with the most duels in Athletic's history.
The first knee operation was a before and after for Muniain. He went from "rebellious and rogue to maturing," he said. They called him Bart Simpson, because of his resemblance to the character in the television series, and he wore his drawing on his shin guards. Not anymore: "It's a time in my life that was good, but I no longer feel identified." Despite the inconveniences, each time he returned, he regained ownership. However, his numbers in recent years had not been very encouraging. Berizzo gave him the handle, but the Argentine coach's experiment collapsed prematurely; with Garitano he continued to be one of the fixtures, but Athletic's football became very thick. Until Marcelino has arrived and is once again essential for his team's game. In the first nine games under the Asturian coach, Muniain gave eight passes on goal and his way of playing revitalizes Athletic's midfield. Despite the fact that he is more comfortable in the middle, the Athletic coach has not gotten off his usual system, 4-4-2, and places the Navarrese player on the left, but with one caveat: it gives him freedom of movements, which the footballer takes advantage of to circulate through many areas of the field
Tables between Levante and Athletic before the duel for the
Cup final His contribution was essential in the final of the Super Cup against Barcelona. Converted into an accurate free kick taker, he was the one who put the ball to Villalibre for the equalizer on the horn, and who assisted Williams for the goal that gave the victory to his team in extra time. In Athletic's last away win, 0-4 against Cádiz, their performance was sublime. He managed the game at will and moved his teammates on the way to the goal. In recent times, in addition, he is subject to the close surveillance of rival defenses. He is the sixth player to receive the most fouls in the League (55), only two less than Leo Messi.
Iker Muniain has his second Copa del Rey final pending – he missed the 2015 final due to injury – which will be played next April 3 against Real Sociedad and can reach a third against Levante. “Maybe I have given up getting a lot of titles, but I have always preferred to win a Cup here than five Champions with any other team. You win a Cup here and you are captain general. If I won it elsewhere, it would be one more number ", he says.