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Jhon Duran: Why Liverpool are being linked with MLS' Colombian wonderkid

14:00 GMT+3 21/10/2022
Jhon Duran NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old enjoyed a strong first season at Chicago Fire, earning transfer interest from around Europe as well as his first international caps

As the second half began during a September friendly between Colombia and Guatemala, the South Americans emerged without the iconic Radamel Falcao. The striker, a pillar of Colombian football for the last 15 years, had been replaced after 45 minutes.

On in his place came a 6'1 mountain of a teenager, Jhon Duran, to make his first senior appearance for his country.

For the football romantics out there, it was a moment that could be seen as a passing of the torch.

Because, while Duran will have to do a whole lot to come close to matching Falcao's legacy, it does seem that he has the potential to be Colombia's striker of the future. And, if all goes to plan, he could become the country's next star to make waves in Europe.

Duran, though, is taking a different path than many of his predecessors, albeit one that is becoming more and more common these days. The 18-year-old recently completed his first season in MLS with Chicago Fire, but he probably won't be there for long as some of the world's biggest clubs watch on.

But who is Duran and what makes him so special? Let NXGN explain...

  • Duran Envigado

    Where it all began

    Born in Medellin, Duran's career began with Envigado, a club that is renowned for producing Colombia's stars of the future.

    The likes of James Rodriguez, Fredy Guarin, Juan Quintero, Matheus Uribe, Jhon Cordoba all came through the Envigado ranks before making their marks on the European game.

    At one point during his academy days coached by Wilson James Rodriguez, James' father, Duran was converted from a winger to a central striker as he progressed through the age-group sides.

    He made his first-team debut for the club in 2019 before later that year becoming the second-youngest goalscorer in Colombian top-flight history, at just 15 years and 263 days old.

  • The big break

    By January 2021, Duran had done enough to catch the eye of the Chicago Fire, who reportedly paid a transfer fee that could rise to $2.5 million (£1.8m) to secure a deal for the youngest foreign signing in MLS history.

    Due to his age, though, Duran didn't join the Fire until the start of the 2022 MLS season. Instead, he spent one more season at Envigado, scoring seven goals in 23 league appearances.

    When he did arrive in Chicago, he was eased in, as the 18-year-old striker spent much of the year as second-choice behind veteran Kacper Pryzbylko.

    Still, Duran didn't take long to find the back of the net, scoring his first goal off the bench in a 2-1 defeat to FC Cincinnati in May.

    His true breakout performance, though, came in July, when he netted a brace against Toronto FC in a 2-0 win.

    "I’m happy for him, I hope he can keep going like this," his team-mate and ex-Liverpool star Xherdan Shaqiri said following Duran's star turn. "He needs to stay also consistent now and try to stay on his toes and to learn from these games, too, what was not so good. This is important for him, too, to work hard in training and in the games, then, to deliver.”

  • Jhon Duran Chicago Fire 2022

    How it's going

    By the end of the season, Duran had racked up 27 appearances, 14 of which were starts. And, over the last month or so of the MLS campaign, he appeared to really find his footing.

    He scored twice in a 3-1 win over Inter Miami on September 10 and added another in a 3-2 loss to Charlotte one week later.

    Then, after earning his first two caps for Colombia in a pair of friendly wins, he returned net another brace against FC Cincinnati in the final weeks of the campaign.

    He finished the season with eight goals in 1363 minutes, making him the Fire's leading goalscorer.

    He also provided three assists, giving him the second-most goal contributions on the team behind only Shaqiri, despite starting fewer than half of the club's games.

  • Biggest strengths

    The first thing that strikes you about Duran is his size. Standing at 6'1 (185cm), Duran has towered over opponents since he was 15, and has long had the strength to play well above his own age.

    Since arriving into MLS, his ability to handle the physicality was apparent. He never looked out of his depth despite taking a step up in level.

    “He is a player that, once he gets it all together, he can be a really, really special player,” Chicago Fire boss Ezra Hendrickson said. “He has all the tools.”

    Duran isn't a simple target man,though. He has pace to burn and is more than comfortable taking players on in transition. He has both the speed to beat a player, which explains why he was a winger at a young age, and the strength to outmuscle a defender if they do catch up.

    And then there's his touch, which was on full display in his chipped finish against FC Cincinnati. The technique is there and so is the composure in front of goal.

    There's also the added threat he brings at set pieces, with Duran proving to be a menace from dead-ball situations this season.

  • Room for improvement

    Perhaps the biggest thing holding back Duran is his inexperience. He's still entirely new to the professional game and very much still learning what it takes to be a striker at the top level.

    He is a bit one-footed, so his left-side could use some development but, in terms of on-field skillset, Duran seems to have everything you would look for in a modern No. 9.

    Duran did have a slight problem with discipline this season, earning six yellow cards. Additionally, he was sent off for two cautions against the New York Red Bulls back in April.

    Now, the second yellow came after Duran bullied his defender on the ball with a push, not for anything over the top, but the young striker will hopefully have learned how to better use his physical gifts when dealing with a booking.

    In terms of professionalism, Hendrickson said it took Duran some time to learn what is expected of him every day.

    "We can't just put players on the pitch unless they show it in training," he said over the summer. "For a long time, Duran was catching up to the speed of play in training. So, he was struggling a bit in training, just keeping the focus, just being mentally there within a game, playing within the team concept. So that too was keeping him off the pitch."

    Off the field, Duran could also use a bit of social media training as well. In August, while doing a Q+A with fans, Duran said that he would leave the club if he could, before walking back his comments with an apology shortly after.

    "I have a contract through 2024 and I'm going to keep working hard the same way since I got here," he said earlier this month. "Throughout the season, I've been working hard. There were some issues off the field, but we worked through them. We worked through all the issues and I'm really happy here... If I'm here next season, I'm going to just continue to work hard and will hope for good things to come."

  • Romelu Lukaku Inter 2022

    The next... Romelu Lukaku?

    The comparison most often tossed around with Duran is a big one. He has frequently been described as a young Romelu Lukaku, which is no small compliment given the Belgian's stature in the game.

    Like Lukaku, Duran has the size to bully defenders, but also the pace to beat them off too. And, like Lukaku, Duran is deceptively smooth on the ball, with many watching on so occupied by the physical gifts that they don't notice his technical ability.

    However, that comparison is a bit simple, as basically every big, young striker is compared with the Inter star.

    Perhaps a more apt comparison at the moment is Liverpool's Darwin Nunez, another young striker blessed with size, strength and technique. However, like Duran, Nunez is also a player that is very much adjusting to life at the top, and the discipline needed to succeed at that level.

    Either way, if Duran can make it to the level of either of those two, he'll have done fairly well for himself.

  • Jhon Duran Chicago Fire 2022

    What comes next?

    As Duran alluded to, it isn't a certainty that he'll be back in Chicago next year. Big clubs are seemingly sniffing around, and, given his social media comments, it's fair to say he'd be interested in moving on should the opportunity arise.

    He has most recently been linked with both Liverpool and Chelsea, though it would take a substantial fee to pry him away from Chicago considering that he is under contract for two more seasons.

    Liverpool have reportedly sent the same scout that they used to gather information on Luis Diaz to watch Duran this season, while the likes of Lille, Eintracht Frankfurt and PSV have also been mentioned as possible European landing spots.

    Check out NXGN's previous player profiles and follow us on Instagram and TikTok for all the latest on the world's best young ballers.