Randal Kolo Muani, 23, was so stunned that he was called up for the national team, that he didn’t pick the first call that flashed on his phone.
He would come into the final, an early sub and set fire to the dying embers of the first half, earning the penalty for Mbappe.
The semifinal with Morocco had stayed on the edge despite Theo Hernandez scoring quite early for France, because Morocco kept pinging the French citadel, and late equalisers have been something of a theme. It was in these circumstances that substitute Muani sprinted in, and almost hit the ground running, steering in a pass like a neat hole-on-one putt from an Mbappe pass to puncture Moroccan hopes for good.
But two months ago despite France reeling under a debris of injuries to big names Pogba, Benzema, Kimpembe and Kante, Muani had scarcely believed he would make the World Cup team. When the call came, he was stupefied into non-reaction. “I didn’t answer the first call right away. I answered the second call and got the coach directly. He told me to come as soon as possible and then we made arrangements for me to come as soon as possible, ” he told onefootball. com.
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The 23-year-old had earlier made his first two appearances for France as a substitute against Austria and Denmark in the Nations League in September.
Conflicting emotions razed through him, and he added candidly: “I was shocked when I saw I had been picked, so I called right away. Frankly I was happy for me, but very disappointed for Christopher Nkuku (who got injured). It’s a little bit special so I sent him a message when I was on the plane. We’re going to go in there and jump right into the deep end. We have to be ready and I think we will be,” he would say.
Those who have followed Muani in the Bundesliga however reckon he’s always been the real deal. The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been a revelation of sorts, even before he replaced Nkuku, the RB Leipzig striker who suffered a leg injury in training. In a breakout season, Muani had scored eight goals in 25 appearances for Frankfurt.
The World Cup roster was a swivel door with injuries packing off half a dozen, with Raphael Varane still recovering, and Lucas Hernandez – brother of Theo – rupturing his ACL against Australia in the opener. It’s when Didier Deschamps called Muani.
Frankfurt though had already been buzzing about him. Deutsche Welle.com would call him the “Breakout star, the marvellous Muani.”
His rocket finishes got commentators squealing. Sample this one breathless gush: “And once more the fingerprints of Kolo Muani are all over it. Mister Assist. Look at Kolo Muani, full of running, full of ideas.”
Though Mbappe set it up nicely for Muani (both born in the same hospital), it was Muani who cut himself a reputation of being ‘Mr Assist.’
In fact there was an acutest angled finish, a la Messi-to-Molina, with Frankfurt’s Jesper Lindstrom scoring off the pass threaded through the eye of a needle with three pairs of defender legs crowding the path, yet missing. “Three defenders couldn’t keep him in check, and the assist on a platter with Jesper Lindstrom benefitting from the pass…” the one calling the match against Werder Bremen would demur.
Yet another devastating finish – this time he scored himself – saw “Muani around the goalkeeper tight…as if that matters to him” the commentator would chuckle, dubbing him Frankfurt’s man of the season so far
Muani would tell DW.com: “I’m someone who is provocative..who likes to run with the ball at speed, someone who likes to play forward at all times. I’m just happy to be on the pitch. But my prefererence is up front, be it left or right. When I’m on the pitch, I’m happy.”
Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Djibril Sow would attest to the Mr Assist nickname: “What I like about him is that he provides a lot of assists. He’s not a selfish striker and he helps a lot in offense.” Lindstrom would pipe up: “He’s so good. He’s so important. I think we fit each other so well in offense. This guy is just unbelievable. He’s fast, strong, technical he can shoot. Just a big star.”
A must-start for Frankfurt now, his stock has risen though the Bundesliga outfit want him at the forefront of their attack till 2024 at least, knowing he could one day generate €80-100 million, according to Bundesliga News. After joining Frankfurt on a free transfer from Nantes last summer, his time with Die Adler’ had eight goals and 11 assists. At Nantes in his first two seasons in the French ligue, Muani had rampaged with 21 goals and 13 assists, though only Frankfurt courted him.
They even invited legal trouble for it, but the Germans would swoop in and claim him for €20 million. Bundesliga News quoted coach Oliver Glasner calling Kolo Muani a “constant source of unrest (in a good way) ,” while Nantes Director of Scouting Mathieu Bideau was quoted as saying: “Kolo does everything quickly and lightly, as if he were on a cloud.”
Yet, tight spaces had become a territory to lord over for Muani. “Kolo Muani is an underrated presser and defenders struggle against him in tight spaces. It’s so difficult to push the forward off the ball, as the Frenchman ranks as one of the top players in all of Europe when it comes to dribbles completed. His goal against Werder Bremen on Matchday 4 stands out, where he single-handedly slipped past three opposing defenders to find the back of the net. And of course, Frankfurt supporters won’t forget Kolo Muani’s winner against Sporting that magically sent the club to the Champions League round of 16,” Bundesliga news would write.
The league website would praise Frankfurt’s scouting department “that they were able to find such a talent who was missed by all of the “big clubs”.
Muani’s infusion has gotten Frankfurt dreaming of Champions League ambitions. “Jesper Lindstrøm, Mario Götze and Daichi Kamada wouldn’t be in such fine form without the newly-minted French international up front. The 50+1 club’s European dreams are alive and well with their star striker, who is giving Eintracht supporters more extraordinary Champions League nights than they could ever possibly dream of.”
It’s why Sport Bild was told by club official Krösche: “We have definitely no plan to sell him next summer. With Randal, you can tell that we’re the right place for him and that it would help his development to be with us for the next few years as well.”
At the World Cup, Muani striding in as substitute and immediately scoring in quickest time, also points to France’s wealth of options up front even after Giroud got subbed. Randal Muani will be heard of much more.