How Manchester City's 19-year-old Aro Muric went from loanee to No. 1 cup keeper
Shortly after making an impressive debut and keeping a clean sheet for Dutch top division side NAC Breda in August, Aro Muric received a phone call that he would be heading straight back to Manchester. Chile international Claudio Bravo had ruptured his Achilles' tendon and the 19-year-old would be cutting short his season-long loan in the Netherlands to be part of Manchester City's first-team squad as their back-up goalkeeper.
A month on and the giant Kosovan is in line to make his full debut for the Premier League champions. First-choice Ederson was rotated out of domestic cup competitions last season for Bravo, and Pep Guardiola is ready to give a number of his promising youngsters an opportunity at League One strugglers Oxford United in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night.
"Maybe I can play Aro but I didn't make the decision. I want to speak with [goalkeeping coach] Xabi [Mancisidor]," Guardiola said ahead of the third-round tie as he aims to defend the first trophy he won in England.
The 19-year-old has certainly made a big impression on the coaching staff at the Etihad Academy. When news broke of the seriousness of Bravo's injury, City were linked with a number of free-agent goalkeepers, but they moved quickly to bring Muric back from his season-long loan agreement at NAC, helping the Eredivisie side to find a replacement.
Muric, who joined from Grasshoppers Zurich in 2016, had worked hard to improve his ball skills and high starting position to satisfy Guardiola's big demands for his keepers -- a technique adopted from No. 1 Ederson all the way through the academy ranks. Despite being a towering 6-foot-5, Muric is more than adept and confident with the extra skills required from a City keeper.
"For such an imposing goalkeeper, he's really efficient with his feet," City's head of Academy coaching Simon Davies, who worked with him for the under-19s, told ESPN FC. "The philosophy of the football club is that we need goalkeepers to help us to build, to get the team playing and have this controlled possession. He's got the presence when coming for crosses, and just in general the organisation. But sometimes the bigger frame goalkeepers don't always have the tactical and technical ability for the other side of the game."
His footballing skills were helped by the fact that, as a boy growing up in Switzerland, he was an outfield player until the age of 11 when a friend of his father's persuaded him he would make a good goalkeeper. Four years later, he was being watched by a number of top European clubs, including Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Galatasaray and Basel, but his mother convinced him that City would be the best move.
His hero was then-City striker Stevan Jovetic and Muric went on to represent Montenegro Under-21s. He has since switched to Kosovo, but a low point in his young career came for the national team two years ago when he was sent off for headbutting Slovenian striker Zan Zuzek in a 3-1 defeat.
"Aro has made a few mistakes in the past, but he's starting to control his emotions a lot more," Davies added. "He was sent off for his national team, losing his head a little. But that's just his passion boiling over. Passion is good but it's obviously got to be controlled. He's worked really hard at that and really improved that during his time here and the goalkeeping coaches deserve a great deal of credit for that."
Muric spent last season training with the first team alongside the highly rated Ederson and highly experienced Bravo working with leading coach Mancisidor and former England keeper Richard Wright. He made a big impression and a season with NAC Breda was supposed to be the next stage in his development until he was recalled to the City first team and has been on the bench for their last four games.
"We were delighted, firstly to see Aro go on loan and to do so well," Davies said. "He's got the experience of playing in front of 18-19,000 people at NAC Breda and now he's around the first-team environment and in those changing rooms which is invaluable."
But Muric can't relax in his role as the new City No. 2. Manchester-born City fan Daniel Grimshaw is a year older and pushing for his own opportunity after making a name for himself as a penalty shootout hero twice on the under-19s run to the UEFA Youth League semifinals last season.
"I think when they're working together so closely on a daily basis, you can't not be friends, but also like most players you've got that rivalry that's needed," Davies said. "You need it to push it each other daily. We have a thing about the best training with the best and we certainly have that here."