Why Man Utd and Liverpool have joined the battle for Luis Muriel - the new Ronaldo
In Italy, they say Luis Muriel is the best they've seen since Ronaldo. Even Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli has asked to be introduced to him.
Brought to Italy by Udinese and in his first full season in Europe, Muriel has been a revelation for Serie A strugglers Lecce, drawing comparisons to Real Madrid and Inter Milan legend Ronaldo and attracting the interest of Europe's biggest clubs, including the Nerazzurri, Manchester United and Liverpool.
Before his sacking, Liverpool football chief Damien Comolli registered their interest with Udinese when enquiring about senior players Pablo Armero and Mehdi Benatia. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, had been tipped off about the Colombian by his Italian scout David Williams and had brother Martin make a personal check last month.
The emergence of Muriel is another triumph of Udinese's South American scouting network. After the success of Alexis Sanchez, who was sold to Barcelona for €26 million, Udinese shareholder Jean Paolo Pozzo made it clear on Colombian radio last week how much they rated Muriel: "He's worth one and a half more than Alexis Sanchez."
The 20 year-old was snapped up for just €1.5 million from Deportivo Cali, where he made his debut as an 18 year-old, but had to wait almost a year for his second game. His senior career in Colombia was just ten matches-old, before Udinese swooped.
It's at Lecce, under the guidance of coach Serse Cosmi this season, where Muriel has exploded. There are some who believe it's too soon to judge the Colombian's value after less than 12 months of consistent goal scoring form.
But Cosmi has no doubts: "He's a pure talent, who needs to be improved because sometimes things can stall for a player of his age. But he has great qualities. And he is very similar to Ronaldo."
Muriel feels the pressure of a relegation battle has accelerated his development.
"Being in this situation, fighting relegation every Sunday, forces you to get serious," said Muriel. "There's no chance of relaxing, it's always tense. Playing with this pressure is difficult, but I also hope beneficial for my career.
"It's worked well for me here. I have the confidence of the coach and his staff and this has helped me on the field. I think I'm playing the best football of my career."
And on Cosmi's Ronaldo comments, Muriel smiles: "When I first heard that, it gave me great joy to be compared to Ronaldo, it made me proud.
"But I took it calmly because I know I have not yet achieved anything and there's a long way to go to get close to Ronaldo's level."
"He's powerful, fast and plays like a veteran," gushed Allegri earlier this season. "He's certainly someone we must watch."
Muriel's star is on the rise and only last week, during a visit to the Lecce training ground, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli asked to be introduced to the youngster.
"I've come to see for myself," smiled Prandelli. "We can read the words of Cosmi and they carry weight. You can make a judgement from his comments.
"Potentially, this young man is an extraordinary player."
Though they stand to make a stunning profit from any summer sale, Udinese's owners, the Pozzo family, are agonising over whether to hold onto their young star for at least one season. Interest in Udine is reaching unprecedented proportions and potential season ticket records have the Pozzos seriously considering locking down Muriel for at least 12 months - no matter what type of offers the likes of United and Liverpool are prepared to make.
"It is a joy so many big clubs are watching me because it gives me motivation to keep doing the right thing," says Muriel. "I know it's not just rumours.
"But now I'm focused on saving Lecce from relegation. After that, we'll see ..."