11 June 2024

Why Duran, The Striker Modelled On Lukaku And Suarez, Is In Demand  (Sky Sports)

Jhon DuranAs a teenager at boyhood club Envigado in Colombia, Jhon Duran would bombard his coaches with requests for extra training. "Both before and after sessions," recalls Wilberth Perea with a chuckle.

"I remember one practice where he missed a headed chance," Perea, his U15 coach, adds to Sky Sports. "Afterwards, he asked me to stay and cross to him. I must have hit 20 balls. He didn't want to stop. Now you see his aerial game is one of his biggest strengths."

Duran has only been able to show that aerial prowess in flashes for Aston Villa, most notably with the prodigious leap that allowed him to head in a rebound away to Europa Conference League rivals Legia Warsaw in September.

But limited playing time at Villa has not deterred prospective suitors, with Chelsea said to be keen to take him to Stamford Bridge. The Colombian made the move from Chicago Fire to Aston Villa in January 2023 as one of South America's most exciting young strikers. At only 20 years old, his thrilling potential remains.

There were glimpses in his early Villa cameos. "He looks like a really good prospect," said Gary Neville after he came on and caused Manchester City problems on only his second appearance following his arrival last season. "Villa have got a player there," added the Sky Sports pundit. "He looks a handful."

They bedded him in slowly. But the start of the new campaign brought four goals in a month. As well as the towering header against Legia Warsaw, there was a stunning strike against Crystal Palace and composed finishes against Everton and Hibernian.

Even then, usurping Ollie Watkins looked a tall order. But Duran continued to make eye-catching contributions in the second half of the campaign. There was an unstoppable effort which crashed in off the bar against Ajax in the Europa Conference League and a smart, angled finish against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

Then, most memorably, in the penultimate Premier League game of the campaign, there was the late double against Liverpool, including a well-taken strike from outside the box, to clinch the 3-3 draw which effectively sealed Villa's Champions League qualification.

Still, though, Duran reached the end of the campaign having only started 10 games for Villa all season - and only three in the Premier League. He is eager for more opportunities but Emery is said to have reservations about his temperament.

The Spaniard has questioned the "consistency" of Duran's application in training but there were no such problems at Envigado, a club with a reputation for nurturing young talent and a production line that includes the former Real Madrid forward James Rodriguez.
Duran's goal threat

Jhon Duran has scored eight times in only 1,221 minutes of action in all competitions since his arrival at Aston Villa in January 2023, averaging a goal for every 153 minutes played.

"Jhon always had the desire to learn and improve," says Perea. "If you give him your trust, you give him love and security, you interact with him and you play him, he will do impressive things for you."

Maybe, then, his issues at Villa come down to compatibility with the manager. After all, there is a lot to like about Duran. He is raw, and somewhat erratic, but he also explosively quick, physically imposing and a fine finisher. There are tools to work with.

Perea knows that better than most having helped to oversee a change of position following Duran's arrival in Envigado's youth academy at the age of 11. "He actually started out as a winger, but I saw fantastic physical qualities in him," says Perea.

"He was strong, fast, very, very good in the air with a good shot. The club already had a plan to develop him as a winger, so I knew I might be called crazy, but I approached the club president, Ramiro Ruiz, and said I thought we could convert him into a striker."

Perea got his way. "After that, we started to work with him as a striker, teaching him the concepts and principles of offensive play. Soon, Jhon discovered his potential to score goals. He scored a lot of goals. We were sure we could develop him to reach the elite."

Duran's academy exploits saw him exposed to first-team football from a remarkably young age, making his senior bow for Envigado having only just turned 15 and becoming the second-youngest scorer in Colombian top-flight history a few months later.

The work that preceded those milestones was wide-ranging.

"The first thing a striker needs to know is the penalty area," explains Perea. "It is important he understands his habitat. But he also needs to know how to use his body, and how to position himself in order to finish off scoring chances.

"So, part of the work we did, with the approval of the president and the sporting director, was conceptual, the analysis of videos, and watching players with similar characteristics, then taking certain details from them and putting them into practice.

"We looked at Romelu Lukaku, because he is another physically strong striker with similar characteristics to Jhon. We also took a lot from Luis Suarez, how he found space in the area, his movement with and without the ball, and Karim Benzema.

"They were the players who were references for him. They served as models for what we wanted to create with Jhon. Our focus was to make him a striker who could score goals, but also combine with other players and make the step up to the highest level."

The manner in which he adapted to Envigado's first team offered encouragement. "I remember taking a call from the manager, Eduardo Lara, late one night, asking me to tell Jhon to come to a practice game with the first team the next day so he could have a look at him," says Perea.

"I went and watched the game and, despite his age, Jhon made the difference. He scored twice and made the defenders work all the time, fighting with them for every ball, competing and showing so much personality. He really caught the manager's attention."

He was soon attracting the attention of others too, leaving Envigado aged 17 for Major League Soccer side Chicago Fire, where he contributed eight goals and five assists in only 1,364 minutes during the 2022 campaign before his £14.75m switch to Aston Villa.

He was welcomed to the club with a message of support from his countryman and former Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel, another player whose video clips he pored over in his academy days.

But 18 months on, there is still a sense that he has not shown the true extent of his potential. So far, Duran has played just 590 Premier League minutes, the vast majority of his appearances coming from the bench as Watkins' deputy.

Back at Envigado, though, close to Duran's hometown of Medellin, they are following developments around his future closely, and with little doubt about the levels he can still reach.

"The model of this club is to develop players who can go and realise their dreams of playing in big leagues abroad," says Perea. "With Jhon, that potential was clear because he made such an impact.

"Remember, he has had to adapt to a new culture and a new style of play in England. But when he understands the ideas of his manager and he plays, he is someone who can bring a lot to any side."