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SSFC Spotlight: Yunus Musah has massive opportunity in upcoming qualifiers

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The 18-year-old midfielder already made several key moves in his career.

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Cadiz CF v Valencia CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

There is an opportunity for Yunus Musah in the upcoming international window to cement his place on the United States Men’s National Team. With several players missing, the midfielder may be relied upon to wield a substantial amount of influence on both sides of the ball. That is heavy responsibility for an 18-year-old, a wunderkind on an already young USMNT squad searching for an identity. His career has already featured bold moves on and off the field, earning constant attention in the media.

Musah was born in New York City, while his mother was visiting. The family moved to Castelfranco Veneto in northern Italy, where he began playing with Giorgione Calcio 2000, described as “the classic phenomenon” by the organization’s president. In 2012, the young player joined the Arsenal Academy after relocating to London, often staying hours after training to continue working on technique. The club was said to be fast-tracking the young player, being promoted to the U-18s at 15 years old amid a reportedly completed transfer to Juventus. In 18 appearances with the squad, the midfielder scored five goals and added three assists, while also competing at the prestigious Dallas Cup and reaching the final of the Premier League U-16 Cup.

With strong performances for club and country, his status as a player to watch continued to grow, drawing comparisons to Paul Pogba and Patrick Vieira. He was expected to sign a scholarship contract to stay at Arsenal, which would convert into a professional deal after one year. However, an intriguing offer came in from Spain, leading to a departure that then-manager Unai Emery reportedly likened to a “stabbing.”

In 2019, Musah moved to Spain to join Valencia, signing a two-year contract, a key part of then-sporting director Pablo Longoria’s focused early identification efforts in order to gain an eventual financial return. He “decided to take a different step in [the] pathway to achieve [his] dream,” at a club with a more clear and proven path to the first team. The Guardian named him to the Next Generation list of best young talents, lauding his “bold decision” to pursue a more competitive environment than academy football.

Originally intended to start with the Juvenil A youth squad, he impressed during preseason and made his debut with the reserves at the age of 16 in a scoreless draw against CF La Nucía. His first goal came in a Segunda División B match against Gimnàstic de Tarragona. Spanish media raved about his performances, describing his play as “a gift to the spectator” while praising his physical strength during the COVID-shortened season.

The next summer, Musah was promoted to the first team for preseason training under new manager Javi Gracia, receiving an opportunity after somewhat of a fire sale left the cupboard slightly bare. At only 17 years old, he made his first team debut in a 4-2 win over Levante. A few months later, he set a club record for youngest goal by a non-Spanish player, finding the back of the net in a 2-2 draw with Getafe. His breakthrough generated the typical stream of headlines and whispers indicating transfer interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

“It’s been a great season to find out what I’m about, playing my first season in La Liga,” Musah told the club’s official website. “There have been so many ups and so many downs. You learn more about yourself in the downs: making mistakes, losing matches and being in a spot in which you have to win matches. You have to learn a lot about yourself. Playing so much in my first season, I got so much information. I’m going to look to take this into next season. I played so many games, made so many mistakes and did so many good things; next year I’m just going to try to improve, and have a better season, hopefully.”

The club extended his contract through 2026 with a reported $121 million release clause. He made 35 total appearances, as Los murciélagos (The Bats) finished in 13th place. The club – enduring well-publicized issues under the ownership of Peter Lim – fired Gracia, replacing him with José Bordalás. The new manager shut down transfer interest from other clubs, hoping to enjoy and benefit from the young player’s maturation in his second year of senior football.

The current season started slowly for Musah, recovering from an ankle injury suffered during a preseason friendly against Atromitos. He eventually debuted as a substitute against Deportivo Alavés after hard work in the gym and the video room. Since then, Bordalás has included him in every match, starting the last four, over which Valencia has gone winless and dropped to eighth in the table. The club is placing a lot of hopes in him, even making him the focus of a massive advertisement campaign along the Gran Vía Marqués del Turia.

At the international level, Musah was eligible to represent Ghana, Italy, England, and the United States. He was a member of the Three Lions program from the earliest level and frequently served as captain with each successive team, although an eligibility issue kept him out of the 2019 UEFA European U-17 Championship. The country would call him up over 35 times, making recruitment seem impossible.

In November of 2020, Musah accepted an invitation to play with the USMNT, beginning a tug-of-war between Gregg Berhalter and Gareth Southgate. He made his debut in a friendly against Wales, receiving a “warm embrace” from new teammates. The teenager remained undeclared for a few more months before committing his international future to his birth nation, the culmination of “a 20-month recruiting process” after a Valencia coach notified U.S. Soccer.

“It was a difficult situation, as England [has] done so much for me,” Musah said in May. “When someone’s nice to you, you don’t want to kind of leave them upside down. But at the end, you have to make the best decision for yourself. I was getting so many phone calls from a lot of different people, a lot of different organizations. And that sort of made it hard and also the fact that I represented England in the past. That’s why it was a really hard decision to make.”

He has made six total appearances for the USMNT and was on the bench for the CONCACAF National League. His lack of play at the competition was a “tactical decision” according to Berhalter. Musah was not called into the previous international window but could play a key role during the upcoming fixtures.

Musah is a highly versatile midfielder and winger, capable of lining up at several interior and wide positions, although is perhaps best-suited to a box-to-box or deep-lying playmaker role. He frequently drives forward with the ball, displaying the high level of technical ability that is expected from graduates of Premier League academies. His physical conditioning is also considered “elite,” with Valencia sources claiming his future will be with a “Borussia Dortmund-style team.” The club has praised his “positive attitude, adaptability, and hunger,” which allowed for a quick adjustment after moving to Spain, learning the language “within two months of his arrival.”

Long dribbling runs are the most visually appealing aspect of his game, the ability to shift a match’s outcome in an instant. Musah also has the expected issues of youth. Total Football Analysis points to “tactical naivety and a lack of awareness,” mostly issues with positioning and movement without the ball. However, Breaking the Lines pushes back on the assessment, lauding his ability to identify opposing defenses and trigger counter-attacks. Instead, decision making in possession is mentioned as an area for improvement. Jake Castillo of One Goal echoes the criticism, identifying long-range passing as something that will become more accurate with experience.

The return of Musah to the national team makes sense at this juncture. Berhalter is looking to play with more verticality, which is the defining part of the young midfielder’s game. At only 18, he has La Liga experience and dealt with the pressure of choosing the harder road for both club and country. The ebbs and flows of dual-national recruitment can be unpredictable, but his addition to the program could pay dividends for several World Cup cycles.