Marco Silva has finally got his man. The protracted story of this summer transfer saga, chronicled most consistently by Brazilian journalist Vene Casagrande in his dispatches from Brazil suggests that Fulham’s new head coach was the key figure in convincing the young striker to choose Craven Cottage when it became clear that Flamengo were willing to cash in on one of their brightest stars. Silva suggested that, were Muniz prepared to pick south west London as his new destination, he might be able to follow in the footsteps of Richarlison, who the Portuguese boss also plucked from Brazilian football and polished into a Premier League star.
Fulham have long needed striking reinforcements – even before the recent departure of Aboubakar Kamara for Greece – but the boy from Brazil remains something of an unknown quantity. What are the Whites getting for their big bucks? Well, Casagrande, who has watched the youngster blossom into a first team forward with Flamengo, feels he has all the attributes to succeed in English football. Describing him as ‘a rare attacker,’ Casagrande lauds Muniz as ‘a very good finisher,’ who is ‘tall, strong and agile’. He may not have copious numbers of appearances and goals behind him – but this is clearly a signing based on potential.
Muniz’s footballing education began under the tutelage of his father, a popular local singer, in São Domingos do Prata at the age of five. His father would supervise his training every night – and sometimes in the early mornings as well. Muniz quickly made a name for himself in local youth football and was spotted by Desportivo Brasil after starring in a junior state tournament and made an immediate impact. He scored a remarkable 31 goals in 28 games in the 2016 under-15 Paulista championship and followed that up with sixteen goals in the next year’s under-17 competition.
Such a strong goalscoring return saw a number of top sides do battle for his signature. Flamengo won the race, signing him as a seventeen year-old in January 2018. He worked his way up through Flamengo’s academy sides, starring in the under-20 side that won the Brazilian under-20 Cup, scoring the winner in the first leg of the semi-final against Corinthians. He benefited from a switch to the number nine role instead of operating as a second striker – scoring 28 goals in the 2019 campaign. He bulked up, leading the line against physical defenders, continued to score goals and was handed his senior debut as a substitute against Macae in the Carioca Championship. He scored his first senior goal later in the same competition against Volta Redonda, powering home a header on the half mark to help Flamengo come from behind to win and bursting into tears in an emotional celebration.
He made two further appearances before being sent on a season-long loan to Cortiba in October 2020. Muniz scored once in six appearances only for head coach Rogério Ceni to order his immediate return to Flamengo a month later. He made his first appearance in the Brasileirão as a late substitute against Botafogo and made three more substitute appearances. He seized an opportunity when Flamengo’s leading forwards were unavailable – either on international duty with Brazil at the Copa America or sidelined with Covid – to shine in the first team. He opened the scoring at Ceara with an assured right-footed finish after accelerating away from the home defence and onto a hopeful ball forward, demonstrating both his impressive speed from a standing start and composure in front of goal beyond his tender years.
He was largely used from the bench to add pace and energy once Gabriel Barbosa and Bruno Henrique returned to resume their prolific partnership up front, but the newcomer’s emergence into senior football didn’t go unremarked – with several Brazilian journalists discussing his potential in glowing terms. He scored five goals in thirteen appearances as Flamengo won the Campeonato Carioca and added three goals in nine league games this term, before the intrigue of a possible move to England took hold. There was a glorious right-footed finish from the edge of the area to seal a vital victory over America in June and two terrific goals followed against Red Bull Bragatino. The first was a poacher’s finish at the far post after a corner had been half cleared and a brilliant bicycle kick in the second half showed both Muniz’s agility and self confidence.
The Brazilian media have made much of Silva’s sales pitch to Muniz, which apparently convinced him that Craven Cottage was the right place to ply his trade. The Portuguese head coach retold the story of taking Richarlison from Fluminese and helped him flourish in the Premier League – first with Watford and then at Goodison Park. It is clear from a cursory view of the highlights packages quickly compiled by foreign fans enticed by transfer speculation that Muniz will bring a very different skillset to what Fulham currently have at their disposal. Silva can count on Aleksandar Mitrovic to deliver goals in the Championship, but the squad is light on other striking options – as he saw last season when Ivan Cavaleiro was asked to lead the line for a large part of the campaign.
Muniz isn’t your typical diminutive South American forward. He stands at 6’1” and is strong in the air as well as being able to withstand physical challenges. The youngster has a good turn of pace, which has already caught out plenty of experienced defenders, and certainly knows where the goal is. Flamengo were initially reluctant to allow him to leave, believing he might be the next big Brazilian striking talent, but their financial position and the amounts of money on offer from English suitors meant a sale was just too tantalising to resist. It is necessary to temper expectations at this point – there is a long history of prolific Brazilian forwards who have failed to fire in this country and Muniz is clearly raw and without significant senior experience. It is potential that Silva has spotted – although he isn’t alone (Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Genk all entered negotiations with Flamengo) and Fulham have faith in their new boss.
The Fulham faithful will need to be patient. Muniz, who tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month, will need to quarantine on his arrival and then acclimatise to a very different style of football. That adjustment may take some time and the Championship is a competition that tests even the most seasoned of performers. Muniz, though, has already shown he had thrive in unfamiliar environments and his ability to fashion chances for himself out of nothing may add a new dimension to Fulham’s attack in due course.