With Jamal Musiala appearing to commit to England over Germany, have the Three Lions found their latest upcoming star?
The DFB, the German football association, looked to admit defeat in the tug of war over whether Musiala would represent the nation of his birth – Germany – or where he spent the majority of his childhood – England, with head of academy coaching Meikel Schonweitz saying: “He has clearly signalled to us that he currently sees his future with the English national teams.”
While the FA has not passed comment on the long-term fate of Musiala’s international allegiance, there must be some real relief under the Wembley arch that the 17-year-old appears to have decided he prefers wearing the badge of England.
The Times reported as far back as September, two months before the teenager even made his U21 bow – and scored his first goal – that senior manager Gareth Southgate had already attempted to lure the midfield prodigy, such is the regard in which he is held.
Southgate is not alone in his admiration. “He is an excellent footballer. We will try to guide him carefully, so that he will get even better and can help us even more,” said Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick after Musiala’s 18-minute cameo in Bayern’s opening game of the season in that same month, during which he became Bayern Munich’s youngest ever Bundesliga scorer in just his second appearance in the competition.
He has since added another to his tally to suggest he may be ready to begin showing his potential on the big stage. And what bigger test could any teenager have than turning out for last season’s all-conquering Champions League winners?
Musiala was born to German and Nigerian parents in Stuttgart in 2003, but moved to England at the age of seven where after spending some time in Southampton’s academy, was snapped up by Chelsea before moving to secondary school.
Even as a young teenager he overachieved, making his England U15 debut before his 14th birthday, with his exceptional ability belying his physical development. And it continued; the candles on his 15th birthday cake were barely out before he received his first call-up to Chelsea’s U18 side.
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What happened next may sound familiar. A year later, a willing German side came calling, and despite Chelsea reportedly offering one of their brightest prospect a bumper contract to keep him in west London, this young talent was set on leaving the Premier League to try his hand in the Bundesliga.
“I’m really happy about my years in England,” said the then 16-year-old. “There were a few interested teams in Europe, but if such a big club in Germany is interested, you can’t say no. I loved Bavaria from an early age.”
Bayern boss Flick may not even have been aware of Musiala joining the club when he first touched down in Bavaria, but Musiala soon got his attention. Beginning life with the U17s, his eye-opening return of goals and assists saw him moved up to the club’s U19s within a matter of months.
Not content with that impressive level of progression, by June he had barged straight into Bayern’s second-string line-up. Of course he scored, and became the second-youngest player in the club’s history to net in a third-tier game, with both goals in a 2-0 win over Zwickau. It was just his second appearance at that level.
What happened next? Another promotion. By the end of the delayed 2019/20 Bundesliga season, he had become Bayern’s youngest ever Bundesliga debutant. Now, he is their youngest league goalscorer too, and has already made his Champions League debut.
Musiala has long been on England’s radar, having featured for every age group from U15 to U17 before his U21 call-up this month. Before that appearance in Aidy Boothroyd’s latest squad, reports claim the DFB were still confident of convincing him to commit to their national side. Even Flick had begun to weigh in. “I would certainly try to get him,” he said. “But it is his decision. He has clear ideas.”
There is one other topic, aside from Musiala’s technical ability, which strikes a recurring theme through any retelling of his story thus far. It starts back at Whitgift Secondary School, a private school in Croydon, which taught a number of Chelsea’s recent academy prospects.
Andrew Martin, Whitgift’s head of football, got to know Musiala pretty well as his football coach across the three years he was a pupil. “When he first arrived, he was a small and slight lad, and someone who didn’t strike you as having great amounts of confidence. But as soon as you put him on a football pitch he comes alive,” Martin told dw.com.
“His all-round demeanour sets him apart. He was always immaculately dressed for school and presented himself extremely well.
“And he would take that onto the football field, too: his conduct, his effort, his steely determination. Everything added up to him being the complete package.”
When Musiala scored his first goal for Bayern, four years since he had last seen his former coach, Martin sent him a text of congratulations – with little expectation of a quick reply, given he was busy making headlines across Germany.
A quick buzz on Martin’s phone within minutes told him the teenager he had known had not been changed by his quick rise. “Thanks, sir,” read his reply.
It’s the same story from former Bayern II coach Sebastian Hoeness, now managing himself in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim.
“The boy is ice cold,” he said after Musiala’s double against Zwickau, not yet aware of the significance those goals would play in his progression. “If you talk to him before the game, he appears focused, calm and reserved.”
Could the ice running through Musiala’s veins earn him one more promotion, and a place in Southgate’s England squad for next summer’s Euro 2020 finals?
It looks unlikely for a player with 84 minutes of senior league football under his belt, but then much of Musiala’s short career has flown in the face of that already.
For now, England U21 manager Aidy Boothroyd’s main focus is on convincing the teenager – who shone on his first start in their 5-0 win over Albania on Tuesday night – that choosing England over Germany is the right call for his future.
“He gives me a nice problem going into March,” the manager said. “I thought Jamal was excellent. You can see that physically he’s not finished. He’s going to be a brute of a man.
“His brain and his feet are the most impressive, he’s razor-sharp. We’re really pleased with him to step up the way he has done.
“It’s been great to get to know Jamal this week and the players have taken to him. He’s a really good player. Hopefully we can persuade him to stay with us and we’ll continue to push his development.”
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