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One of the great reasons for the tremendous success of the Spanish international team is that whenever a Next Big Thing fails to reach the required stature, there is always another player who comes along at a timely moment to achieve the required level. In Spain, there is no waiting about for Danny Cadamarteri and Lee Hendrie to get their footballing bums into action.
Sergio Canales, Dani Parejo and Ander Herrera were all supposed to be part of Vicente del Bosque's plans by now, but that prediction has not quite come true due to injury, being too stroppy and having a bad season under a mad manager respectively. However, Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Koke have all made steady progression into the ranks of La Roja instead.
One of Herrera's teammates was due to be one of the most exciting players on the planet by now. When Iker Muniain made his debut for the Basque club at the age of 16 in July 2009, a huge future was predicted for the forward. The Pamplona-born player had attitude, aggression and wonderful technique. Muniain quickly built up a reputation as a feisty footballer with no fear that opposition defenders learned to hate enormously due to his love of ankle-biting and the odd flying elbow.
Four years later and Muniain's career is a huge mess with the striker scoring just three league goals in the past two campaigns, despite 66 appearances. Although the player known at the club as 'Bart' for his reputation for mayhem (and a slight resemblance to the Simpsons character), has never been prolific, Muniain has only ever made a name for himself in matches in recent years by running around like a headless chicken and getting into trouble.
A low point in last season's campaign was being brought on by Marcelo Bielsa as a substitute in a clash against Granada and being taken off 20 minutes later for tactical reasons. Muniain's inconsistency and increasingly sullen attitude saw the Navarran falling out of favour with the Argentinean coach, with the player complaining that he was "misunderstood."
Ernesto Valverde is now the new boss in Bilbao and has taken on the job of reviving the career of a player who is still just 20 and with plenty of time to get his life back on track. There is hope that this journey began last week in Athletic's season opener against Valladolid with the misfiring forward grabbing a poacher's effort in a 2-1 win. The strike was Muniain's first league effort since March and equalled his goal tally for the whole of the past campaign.
"Iker is a player who offers us a great deal, a lot of impudence and the desire to help out," said an admiring Valverde after last Saturday's win. Muniain is expected to be up front again for Athletic in their next home game, to be played in Real Sociedad's ground due the new San Mamés still awaiting completion.
Over 328 coaches are set to be taking supporters to and from Friday evening's clash against Osasuna. Those fans will be hoping to see a revival for their club continuing after a troubled campaign last year that saw Athletic finishing in 12th. A few players in the squad, aside from Muniain, will also be looking for a turnaround in their fortunes. The aforementioned Herrera may be able to break into Del Bosque's plans despite stiff opposition in the central midfield, as could Oscar de Marcos - who was linked with a €20million move to some of Europe's biggest clubs a year ago after his sensational performances in Europe.
Athletic have a lot of ground to make up but a new manager in his second spell at the club and a brand new stadium has produced a big surge in optimism in the region for a fine campaign and a return to European football. However, an awful lot depends on a scurrying trouble-maker up front and if he can relight the fire on a stagnating career.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter