Loan Watch: Aro Muric

A relegation battle wasn’t what Willem II envisaged at the beginning of the 2020-2021 campaign.

Having qualified for the Europa League in the season prior, the Tilburg club would’ve been forgiven for thinking they would spend the season ambitiously looking up the Eredivisie table rather than glancing nervously over their shoulder.

In reality, however, they’d won just three games all season when Aro Muric was brought in on loan to help stem the tide in early February.

Despite two defeats in his first two matches between the sticks, the Kosovan soon became an important figure in the team’s revival, helping to oversee five victories in the final twelve matches to help steer Willem II clear of the drop.

Muric more than played his part in that revival, providing an assured presence and calmness under testing circumstances.

It was ultimately a season to forget for Willem II but one in which the Kosovan stopper more than proved his worth when it truly mattered.

A modern goalkeeper with a penchant for penalties

Muric falls seamlessly into the category of the ‘modern’ goalkeeper.

Confident with the ball at his feet, the Kosovan keeper's distribution provides a lethal weapon for any side looking to build from the back or hit teams on the counter.

However, Willem II’s predicament at the foot of the table often saw a greater demand placed on Muric to dominate his area and organise his backline.

The 22-year-old has worked hard to hone that penalty box presence to match his technical skills and his development at Willem II is a case in point of that progress.

For someone of his 6ft 5ins frame, the Kosovan is also surprisingly agile, possessing an impressive reaction speed and ability to make key saves down low towards the ground.

Muric also boasts a burgeoning reputation as a penalty stopper, propelling City into the 2018-2019 Carabao Cup semi-finals with two vital saves in a shoot-out victory over Leicester.

That status was further enhanced by the small matter of denying England captain Harry Kane while on international duty in 2019, and by a vital contribution in Willem’s penultimate match of the season against Ado Den Haag.

In total, the goalkeeper has saved an astonishing 50% of the penalties that he has faced in open play at senior level for club and country.

“We couldn’t play nice football, we needed the points”
Aro Muric

A new found adaptability

At 22, Muric remains relatively young for a professional goalkeeper, but he believes the experience gained during his time in Holland has been invaluable.

In particular, Muric insists that his understanding of the game has come on leaps and bounds at Willem II to complement an already impressive technical repertoire.

The player that he has become during his brief spell in the Eredivisie, Muric feels, is far more adaptable and well-rounded compared to the one who arrived back in February.

Muric reflected: “I think I can feel which situations to play long and when to play out now.

“I still have the qualities to play out if I have a team who can and need to.

“(But) in this situation with Willem, we couldn’t play nice football, we needed the points.

“Now, I understand it’s professional football, I can’t try my things all the time, I can adapt.”

After becoming a key cog in Zeljko Petrovic’s well-oiled machine, Muric’s belief in his own qualities is sky high.

And the Kosovan, whilst keeping his feet on the ground, is confident that he can step up and prove himself on the biggest stage after a successful finale to the campaign.

“For me it’s important to achieve the most that I can to reach my potential and to raise my game” Muric declared.

“I believe in myself that I can play even higher than I have played until now.

“I’ve been at Manchester City and played in the (Carabao) Cup.

“I did it there, so I think I can be there (again).

"I think in the next years I will give my best, improve the most and hopefully go back there where I was.”

“If Willem didn’t have Muric, I think they’d have been relegated”
Michael Statham

While Muric’s time in Tilburg has ultimately proven successful, a difficult start to his loan spell could have derailed the young goalkeeper.

Joining a club languishing at the wrong end of the table, the Kosovan’s stint in the Eredivisie presented a unique challenge compared to anything he had previously experienced.

And after his first two appearances both ended in heavy defeats, many a young goalkeeper could have buckled under the pressure that came from a team performing well below their expectations.

Nonetheless, Willem subsequently embarked on a five-match unbeaten run, with Muric keeping two clean sheets in the process.

That immediate revival is testament to the wise head that sits on the goalkeeper’s young shoulders.

“He was quite young and quite unproven, but he definitely steadied the ship,” Football Oranje and Pinnacle writer, Michael Statham explains.

“He was under pressure playing for a fairly big team, Willem II shouldn’t have been down there.

"He had to come in under that pressure to turn the tide (but) there’s no fear about him being in goal.

“That says a lot about his character really, the fact he can do that.”

His standout performance away to Ado Den Haag in the penultimate match of the season provided ample demonstration of Muric’s personal development at Willem II.

With relegation rivals RKC Waalwijk and FC Emmen both picking up crucial wins in their bids for survival, victory at the league’s basement club carried an extra weight of significance.

After storming into a two-goal lead the hosts were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time, but Muric stepped up when it mattered to deny Abdenasser El Khayati from the spot.

For Statham, this moment demonstrates the goalkeeper’s influence on helping to turn the club’s fortunes around.

“The (Ado) Den Haag match was an example of him stepping up at senior level, it was a big game for him,” he recalls.

“I think he was a much steadier head, and that’s why they were able to stay up.

"If they didn’t have him I think they’d have been relegated.

"The fact that he was so young and stepped it up, it shows his character.”