The teen lighting up FIFA World Cup 2022

Yunus Musah

When the 19-year-old midfielder Yunus Musah lined up for the United States of America team against England, it was impossible for memories not to overwhelm the teenager. In fact, Musah played for England in all the younger age category teams between 2016 and 2019, but chose to play senior football for the USA.

Yet his story is one nothing short of amazing and underlines the globalisation of football, which can be seen time and time again. So here it goes, a story about a player born in the USA from Ghanian players, that started his first steps in football in Italy and is currently a defensive lynchpin for Spanish club Valencia.

Musah’s connection to American football was basically non-existent before 2020, when he made his debut for the senior national team. Yet he had one to the country, being an American citizen after he was born in New York City in November 2002, when his Ghanian mother was on vacation.

Immediately after the little Yunus was born, his family moved to Northeast Italy, where he started playing football and refining his innate skills at Giorgione Calcio 2000, a team featuring in the fourth-tier of the Italian football pyramid. He was first a goalkeeper, but whenever he made a save, he put the ball down and started dribbling other kids and scoring goals.

It were his talent and prowess that made sure he would play for Giorgione for only two years, making his first steps in football there. He quickly moved at age 9 to London, alongside his family, and started to feature at the renowned academy of Arsenal.

“As a player, he was ‘wow’. He’s got fantastic physical attributes and the drive and determination to go with that. He would play anywhere to get in the team but his favourite was as a central attacking midfield player. His versatility is a coaches’ dream really,” said Trevor Bumstead, an ex-Arsenal academy coach, who also worked with stars like Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka, whom Musah totally dominated in midfield in USA’s 0-0 draw against England.

Musah’s excellent potential was also earmarked by the English Football Association, with the midfielder representing the country in the Under 15, Under 16, Under 17 and Under 18 teams, even being the captain of the latter side. But making the cut for the senior national team is quite difficult, as England are packed with quality at this level, having made the final at the UEFA EURO 2020.

But the USA FA also has a big pool of players who are featuring in other leagues or for other countries at a younger age category level and have dual citizenship. When Gregg Berhalter, the national team coach, saw Musah, he knew he had a chance to create something special and ensure the future of the midfield of the USA team for at least a decade.

“One thing I’m always careful about is, I want to know the player’s connection to the United States. In terms of do they feel it in their heart? Do they feel like they want to be part of this team? Do they feel a connection to the United States? Because that’s really important. We also want to create a team that has a deep passion for representing our country, and it ebbs into what we’re doing as a team,” said Berhalter for “Sports Illustrated”.

While Musah said himself in interviews that he’s Ghanian, something changed in his heart when Berhalter made his pitch to convince his to represent USA. On 15 March 2021, after having represented the team two times in friendlies, Musah pledged his future to the American side. In just two years, the midfielder, who broke his duck aged 17 in the national team, becoming one of the youngest-ever players to feature for USA, has already 21 games under his belt.

With Ghanaian, English, Italian and American heritage, Musah’s entire life feels like a unique mixture. He is the only Muslim on the US team and can speak a plethora of languages, like English, Spanish, Italian, and loves Ghanian food, living with his brother in Valencia.

“I am both really – English and American. I had a great time at England. I loved every time, had a lot of camps, great people and everything. Things happen in mysterious ways, I was born in the US for a reason. Now I’m playing for the national team and I’m loving it. I’ve had to make a few big decisions in my career and they have paid off,” said Musah for BBC.

He also said that the game against England will be the biggest in his career and he passed it with flying colours, totally bossing the midfield and earning rave reviews for his performance in the 0-0 draw.

And for Musah it really looks like it’s only the beginning, with a 19-year-old player having 72 games for Valencia in La Liga and over 20 caps for the national team. He is here to stay and improve.

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