Jhon Duran has attracted interest from Chelsea, West Ham and others despite limited playing time at Aston Villa; here, the striker’s former coach explains how he honed his game in Colombia and why he has the potential to reach the very top
Image: Jhon Duran is currently out with a hamstring injury but has attracted interest this January
As 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 shown it in flashes for Aston Villa, most notably with the prodigious leap that allowed him to head in a rebound against Europa Conference League rivals Legia Warsaw in September.
But his limited playing time has not deterred prospective suitors. The Colombian made the move from Chicago Fire to Aston Villa last January as one of South America’s most exciting young strikers. Having only recently turned 20, his thrilling potential remains.
- Chelsea among clubs interested in signing Jhon Duran
Watch Duran’s stunning goal against Crystal Palace
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. “Villa have got a player there,” added the Sky Sports pundit. “He looks a handful.”
Villa bedded him in slowly. But the start of the new season brought four goals in a month. As well as the towering header against Legia Warsaw, there was a stunning strike against Crystal Palace and a pair of composed finishes against Everton and Hibernian.
Even then, usurping Ollie Watkins looked a tall order. Duran continued to feature regularly as a substitute but is yet to start a Premier League game. He is eager for more opportunities. Emery, though, 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.
“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.”
Image: Duran has scored goals for Aston Villa since his arrival from Chicago Fire
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.”
Image: Duran made 51 senior appearances for Envigado before moving to Chicago Fire
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.
Image: Duran has won eight caps for Colombia, scoring once
“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 a year on, there is still a sense that he has not shown the true extent of his potential. So far, Duran has played just 301 Premier League minutes, starting only seven times in all competitions.
Back at Envigado, though, close to Duran’s hometown of Medellin, there are no doubts 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.”
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