Randal Kolo Muani lighting up the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt
He's making and taking goals like they're going out of fashion, powering Eintracht Frankfurt's bid for a top-four finish, and he even has his own chant at the Deutsche Bank Park! This is turning into some maiden Bundesliga season for Randal Kolo Muani.
The 24-year-old Frenchman once again took centre stage as Frankfurt eased past Hertha Berlin on Matchday 19, winning and converting a first-half penalty and then netting his first Bundesliga brace after latching onto Jesper Lindstrom's inch-perfect pass.
It finished 3-0 to Oliver Glasner's side, but the home fans didn't wait until the final whistle to start singing the praises of their new favourite son, to the tune of No Limit. It certainly feels like Kolo Muani has no limit at the moment.
"It was a great feeling when the fans sang a chant for me for the first time," Frankfurt's delighted No.9 told the club's website. "I'll keep working hard so it happens again! The pass from Jesper for the second goal was brilliant. I tried to take it on directly and it worked out well. Like all of us, I still have room for improvement and can do certain things better."
Watch: Kolo Muani leads Frankfurt to victory over Hertha
Good news for Frankfurt – bad news for their rivals in the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League.
Kolo Muani's double against the Old Lady took his haul for the season to nine goals, which puts him joint-fifth in the Bundesliga scoring charts behind Niclas Füllkrug (13), Christopher Nkunku (12), Jamal Musiala (10) and Marcus Thuram (10). He also boasts a league-leading 10 assists, two ahead of Dominik Szoboszlai (eight).
Nobody in the division has had a direct hand in more than his 19 goals, and he's the first Frankfurt player to have racked up such impressive numbers at this stage of the season since data collection began in the early 1990s. No wonder Glasner is so glad to have him on board.
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"We signed him because we saw great potential in him," the Austrian coach told bundesliga.com in January. "We saw instantly that he was really quick. He listens and tries things on the pitch, plus he's a great lad. He's not 17 anymore, he's at a good footballing age. It's not that surprising that he's so capable. It maybe is a bit surprising that he's playing such a crucial role here, but he deserves that due to his performances."
Watch: Kolo Muani’s first 19 goal contributions in the Bundesliga
Kolo Muani has certainly been on a wild rollercoaster ride since last summer. After helping his boyhood club Nantes lift the French Cup – their first piece of silverware in over 20 years – he joined an ambitious Frankfurt team (on a free transfer, don’t forget!), hoping to shine on all fronts after winning the UEFA Europa League and reaching the Champions League for the first time since 1960.
It didn't take long for the rangy 6'1" Frenchman to make his mark, although a well-taken goal against Bayern Munich on the opening day was little more than a footnote in a 6-1 loss (Kolo Muani entered the fray at half-time, with Frankfurt already 5-0 down). In his first start, he set up Daichi Kamada for the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Hertha, and then contributed a goal and assist as Die Adler finally got off the mark on Matchday 4 with a barnstorming 4-3 win over Werder Bremen.
"It gives me great joy when I can play in my teammates and they score," Kolo Muani told Sport1 earlier in the season, when he was making more goals than he was taking. "Of course, I prefer to score. But obviously I'll lay it off when someone is in a better position."
"He's amazing," former Eintracht and Bayern boss Felix Magath told French sports daily L'Équipe. "He's not only a strong dribbler, but he's very clinical in the final third. I love his mentality; he's always thinking about the team. That's obvious when you look at how many assists he's got this season."
That streak of altruism led to further assists against some of the Bundesliga's big guns, including RB Leipzig, Union Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. He ended up on the scoresheet five times before the mid-season break, also finding the back of the net against Leverkusen, Hoffenheim and Mainz.
France coach Didier Deschamps had been keeping a close eye on the talented young striker, who was following in the footsteps of his compatriot Nkunku by making a splash in the Bundesliga. In an unfortunate twist, it was a training-ground injury to the Leipzig star that opened the door for Kolo Muani to feature for Les Bleus at the World Cup.
"I was in Japan with the club for our Japan Tour, and I got a call [from Deschamps] asking me to come straight away," Kolo Muani explained to beIN SPORTS. "I told him, 'It might be complicated, because I'm in Japan!' I was worried he was going to change his mind. So I said, 'Don't worry coach, I'll be there! I'll run if I have to!' I flew from Japan to Doha, 14 hours. All I had was my Frankfurt kit, I hadn't brought anything else. I only had like five pairs of boxers!"
Watch: Highlights of Frankfurt’s Japan tour
Kolo Muani had played a grand total of 12 minutes for France in UEFA Nations League games against Austria and Denmark in September, and yet he found himself making his first international start on the biggest stage of them all, in the final group game against Tunisia. Not a bad early birthday present five days before he turned 24.
France defeated Poland and England to progress to the semi-finals against Morocco, where Kolo Muani made a memorable second tournament appearance. Within a minute of replacing Ousmane Dembele, the Frankfurt forward was in the right place at the right time to tap home his first international goal, securing a 2-0 victory for the holders and booking them a spot in the final against Argentina.
Kolo Muani's goal came just 44 seconds after he joined the fray – a pleasing nod to the number of the Loire-Atlantique department where he spent his formative years with Nantes.
"It was crazy," he recalled. "Crazy, crazy. I didn't expect it. I didn't even expect to come on, to be honest. The coach told me to give it my all, to make the effort to get back and help out in defence. And yet the first time I touched the ball, I was putting it in the back of the net. Everyone was happy in the dressing room afterwards. There was a lot of love, and a fair bit of teasing!"
France's new kid on the block even came within a whisker of going down in football immortality – and joining his teammate Mario Götze as a World Cup-winning goalscorer. In the dying seconds of a spellbinding showpiece against Argentina, he latched onto a ball over the top from Ibrahima Konate, but saw his low attempt brilliantly saved by Emiliano Martinez. It went to a penalty shootout, and even if Kolo Muani managed to score his spot-kick, Lionel Messi and co. won the day.
"It still sticks in my throat, and it will for the rest of my life," Kolo Muani acknowledged. "I say to myself that I have to keep fighting, and eventually I'll get that goal. I think the miss will give me strength, in a way. It's going to push me to keep scoring and surpass myself."
Frankfurt can certainly have no cause for complaint since the Bundesliga resumed in January. Kolo Muani has become even more lethal, grabbing four goals and an assist in four games. He opened the scoring against Freiburg and got another goal against Bayern - the only player to score twice against the champions in 2022/23 - this time in a far more keenly contested 1-1 draw. His double against Hertha left Frankfurt just a point behind the Champions League places and five off top spot.
"The World Cup gave him the chance to assert his personality, to mature, to have even more confidence in his abilities," observed Glasner. "Randal is assuming his responsibilities more on a daily basis. Before the World Cup, he missed too many clear-cut chances. But now you get the sense that he's always happy and fulfilled. He never complains."
Watch: Eintracht’s clinical finishing
"Kolo Muani is a major asset for the Bundesliga," echoed former Bayern star and Sky Sport pundit Lothar Matthäus in L'Équipe. "He has remarkable technical ability, he's ice-cold in front of goal and he really throws himself into challenges. The most impressive thing is that he's performing in every game. I can't remember a match where he's played badly. That's the mark of a future superstar."
The Germany and Bundesliga legend's claims are backed up by Kolo Muani's prolific numbers, and not just for goals and assists. He's had the most shots on goal for Frankfurt this season (60), and clocked the team's fastest sprint at 21.68 mph. He's also contested 514 challenges in the league – second only to Dortmund's Jude Bellingham – and he's committed (28) and won (37) the most fouls for his team, highlighting his full-blooded approach.
"I do the best job in the world," he explained. "So I give everything when I'm on the pitch. I give my life. And I enjoy myself, simple as that. It's about pleasure, first and foremost. And to enjoy myself, I have to give my all."
In the space of a few short months, Kolo Muani has gone from being the Bundesliga's surprise package to one of its very best performers. He currently boasts the best average rating for an outfield player in Kicker, Germany's leading sports magazine, and could well end up imitating Nkunku further by landing the coveted Player of the Season prize in 2022/23.
He will certainly have ample opportunity to shine between now and the end of the campaign. Frankfurt are still going on all fronts, with a recent victory over Darmstadt where he scored two and set up another taking them through to the DFB Cup quarter-finals, and a mouth-watering Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli on the horizon. Having come fifth in the Bundesliga in 2020/21, the club will be determined to go at least one better and claim a long-awaited top-four finish – and it could be even more with the gap to the top only five points. With rampant Randal spearheading their attack, you certainly wouldn't bet against it.
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