Rodrigo Muniz, Fulham's transformed frontman
What is so infectious about Fulham striker Rodrigo Muniz is that he plays the game like he is living the dream.
The 22-year-old channels so much emotional energy into his performances and so, at full time after scoring twice against Bournemouth, he savoured the moment. He was the last to leave the field after taking the acclaim from the terraces following the 3-1 win.
“Imagine when you come from Brazil to English football, you have your dream to come and play here as a striker and you have waited a long time to score your first Premier League goal,” Fulham coach Marco Silva said. “I’m really pleased — he deserves it. When you have the chance, you have to step up. Last week (against Burnley) was that moment. This week was the best performance in a Fulham shirt.”
The talk last week at Fulham has concerned another striker, Armando Broja, who was signed after Raul Jimenez was ruled out for around two months with a hamstring injury. His loan signing felt essential because neither Carlos Vinicius nor Muniz had fully convinced. After 11 top-flight games it was not yet known if Muniz could make the step up.
His time at Fulham had not been easy. He arrived from Flamengo in 2021 as a 20-year-old who spoke no English and had little experience behind him (albeit he did score a bicycle kick in the Maracana). He helped Fulham to promotion in his first season, scoring five goals from 25 appearances, but as an understudy to Aleksandar Mitrovic. He only made two league starts.
After promotion, his need for minutes led him to Middlesbrough on loan but that did not go well. He started games initially but then dropped out of contention after the appointment of Michael Carrick. He would train and not play; he failed to feature in a matchday squad across a three-month period between January and April.
There had been offers to go abroad on loan before he moved to Teesside but Silva wanted him to stay in England.
“I knew that was important for him to improve his English, to adapt better to another system, to become stronger,” Silva said. “Unfortunately, the season was not what we expected for him and he was not happy at all. But it made him grow as a boy. He became more mature. He is even more ready for the fight.”
The departure of Mitrovic last summer and the early struggles of Jimenez opened the door to new possibilities. Muniz had a strong pre-season, and that persuaded Fulham not to send him out on loan. But he suffered a muscle injury and fell down the pecking order. With Jimenez and Vinicius struggling to impress, he then got his chance with a start against Manchester United in November. He performed well. But it ended in tears, and not the kind we saw at Burnley last week. A new injury, to his knee, slowed him again.
But just as Broja walked through the door, the tide has turned once more. Against Bournemouth on Saturday, Muniz was physical as well as clinical, battling hard against centre-backs Illya Zabarnyi and Marco Senesi. “It was not just the goals, it was the way he linked our game, and held the ball,” Silva said.
Crucially, though, he found his cutting edge, showing a poacher’s instinct in both goals. He has three in two games and that will give him a new lease of life. “He’s a good guy to work with,” Andreas Pereira told The Athletic last month. “He is very strong mentally. He’s always there making the decision difficult for our manager and he’s showing the group that he has a great quality to help us. He’s been growing a lot, with the work he has been doing outside the pitch and listening to everyone.”
Silva sees Muniz as a different profile to Broja, who he likens more to Jimenez. That may offer variance when it comes to his selection decisions, which have suddenly become trickier. He will not mind a headache over a frontman though — after a season defined by goalscoring questions.
The challenge now for Muniz is to keep Broja at bay. “(On Friday) I had a conversation with (Armando) about the situation,” said Silva. “He has a lot of potential. We really believe in him. We made an effort to have him with us, and it was a player that we looked at last summer. He knows he is going to have competition for places because he is in the Premier League.”
There is seemingly a financial aspect to this, too. If Broja, who replaced Muniz 15 minutes from time, does not start a certain number of games, believed to be 10 starts, then Fulham may have to pay Chelsea up to £4million. “I respect the question. But financial things are not for me,” Silva said. “All the decisions that I make as Fulham manager are always going to be to win football matches, and who is the best player to win.”
That could well be money well spent regardless if it turns Muniz into a goal machine — “and a striker who is scoring goals is not going to be (worth) £4million, it will be £15million or £20million. Sometimes football is more simple than you think. If he deserves to play, he plays.”
That, for Muniz, the striker who plays with his heart on his sleeve, is all that matters. He will not be concerned about loan fees or the implications of that. He just wants to play, score goals, and celebrate in Samba style — just as he did after his second strike on Saturday.
(David Horton – CameraSport via Getty Images)