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Muniain's star in the ascendant at Athletic

Published: Wednesday 4 April 2012, 15.00CET
From his "unforgettable" debut at the age of 16 to Under-21 glory and facing the "incredible" Raúl González, Athletic Club's Iker Muniain is enjoying every second of his rise to the top.
by Gonzalo Aguado
from Bilbao
Muniain's star in the ascendant at Athletic
Iker Muniain celebrates his goal against Schalke in the first leg ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 4 April 2012, 15.00CET

Muniain's star in the ascendant at Athletic

From his "unforgettable" debut at the age of 16 to Under-21 glory and facing the "incredible" Raúl González, Athletic Club's Iker Muniain is enjoying every second of his rise to the top.

An Athletic Club debutant aged only 16 at the start of the 2009/10 campaign, Iker Muniain's star has been in the ascendant ever since. The talented forward became a regular the following season before playing a key role in Spain's UEFA European Under-21 Championship success last summer. Now 19, Muniain has become integral to Athletic's style under coach Marcelo Bielsa, helping them to within sight of the UEFA Europa League last four. A 4-2 win at FC Schalke 04 in last week's quarter-final first leg leaves them well placed ahead of Thursday's return in Bilbao.

Let's go back a few seasons to July 2009 when you made your Athletic debut in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round.

Yes, I was 16. Back then we were still with coach Joaquín [Caparrós], to whom I owe a lot and who taught me many things. That moment was just unforgettable and I still remember it well – the warm-up, seeing the people who applauded me – it was all just unbelievable.

You have scored five goals in this season's UEFA Europa League – what moment do you remember most from this campaign?

I like to go for the moments after matches, when the whole team was happy to have sealed a victory. We had tough encounters against Lokomotiv Moskva and Manchester United, which were pretty hard. Seeing the team all smiles in the dressing room, those are the nicest moments that I enjoy – sharing them with my team-mates.

Schalke are probably the most 'Spanish' team in Germany – what can you tell us about them?

They are a very tough team, with lots of options in attack, with Raúl González, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfán. They are all top-level players. We know we're playing here at San Mamés and things will go well, but they will certainly make it difficult for us.

Raúl is unbelievable, isn't he?

Yes, it's just crazy with Raúl. He is a player who has played so many matches with Real Madrid, who has won so many trophies with them, and who's scored so many goals. Yet he still has this hunger and desire to improve. It's just incredible.

When you were young did you admire him?

Yes, of course. You admire all the great players who have achieved great things, and Raúl is a role model to all footballers. He is just one of the best out there.

You won the UEFA European U21 Championship in Denmark last year. What does it mean to you to make it into the semis or even the final of this competition?

It would be great, not only for us but for all our fans, maybe to reach the final of the Europa League. To play two finals in the same season [including the Copa del Rey decider against FC Barcelona] would be something nobody expected.

Last updated: 04/04/12 20.47CET

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