Yunus Musah: The Boy Who Dared To Dream
Walt Disney once said, “all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” If you ever needed proof of that, just take a look at Yunus Musah. At the tender age of 18, the Valencia winger has already been on the most magnificent of journeys, crossing continents and taking his talents with him. Yet he has not once given up on his dream. Whether that has taken him abroad, to new surroundings, difficult settings, he has always believed in himself. He has never been afraid to dream.
Born to Ghanaian parents while they were on vacation in New York, Musah would be eligible to play for four different nations by the time he even reached the age of 16. At the time, few expected the battle for his international allegiance to be quite so intense just two years later.
The first 10 years of his life were spent in Italy, in the small town of Castelfranco Veneto, just inland from Venice. He joined the local side, Giorgione Calcio, as a boy and it was immediately clear that he had an unusual talent. “You could tell from a kilometre away that he had the qualities and ingredients to make it, always smiling, always leading the group and chasing the ball,” the Italian outfit’s president Antonello Orfeo told EMV Levante. “He played with boys older than him because the kids his age couldn’t stop him. The boy was special, I’d dare to say we had a phenomenon before us.”
But Musah’s journey was to take another unexpected turn. This time, it would be to London. His father was made redundant and left without work in Italy, eventually finding a job in the English capital. A host of clubs spotted his talent and didn’t hesitate to make a move to sign him, even at the age of 10. Arsenal were the lucky benefactors. Joining the club in 2012, he worked his way up, earning caps at international level with England in every age group from under-15s right through to under-18s.
“Musah was always considered a hugely promising prospect at Arsenal, certainly up there with Miguel Azeez as the top two in their age bracket at the time of his departure. I watched an under-16 Premier League Cup final a couple of seasons ago where they stood out far above their teammates, and everyone in attendance could see that,” Dan Critchlow of Arsenal outlet Daily Cannon told us.
He would only kick on further. In the under-18s he won the Premier League for his age group, scoring five and providing three assists in his 17 games in that campaign. It was enough to capture the attention of clubs across Europe as his deal at the Emirates Stadium neared an end.
“There was a great desire to tie both of them down to new contracts, but in the end, it was up to the players themselves to decide,” Dan adds. Musah’s decision was to leave, with Valencia being his destination. Despite being pictured in a Valencia shirt at Mestalla more than two months before the deal was finally done, and even scoring in a friendly against UD Ibiza before he’d even put pen to paper, it was evident that Arsenal did not want to allow him to leave. In the end, it was said to be the chance to plot a route to first-team football that persuaded the winger. He joined a club who were in the process of asset-stripping, signing the contract just two days after Marcelino was axed as Valencia’s coach.
“I don't think there's any doubt that Arsenal did a lot for Musah,” Dan insists. “By club standards, he was very much fast-tracked through the ranks. He made his under-18 debut at 14 and became a regular in that side at 15, helping them to win the under-18 Southern Division title alongside much older teammates. When he left, Musah wrote that Arsenal offered him "overwhelming support" during his spell and seemed genuinely grateful for their contributions to his development.
“To an extent, it was a mistake to not give him a clear path to the first team. It's difficult to compete with foreign clubs who have B-teams playing in senior leagues like Valencia do. I think Musah would've made his Arsenal debut by now if he stayed, like Azeez has this season. But he wouldn't have played as much as with Valencia, which justifies his decision to leave.”
Valencia had swooped to secure what was regarded as one of the best deals of the summer by followers of youth football. While Peter Lim and co. were failing to invest in the first team, they were at least making wise acquisitions for the youth teams, with Musah the centrepiece.
“Meriton’s transfer policy is really a mystery. The theory says that they go for young players and they’ll have chances, but they make mistakes when it comes to renewing their contracts. The arrival of Yunus confirms that gamble on cheap, young players who can bring sporting and economic success,” explains Valencia fan Álvaro Benzal.
Two days after signing, he made his debut after being registered for the B team, Mestalla. Surprisingly, he was even included in the Champions League squad registered by the club. “It was a surprise for most fans, he was unknown,” Álvaro said. It created intrigue that a player who had only been at the club for a matter of weeks had so quickly surpassed local talents. While the club’s management were set for this route of giving time to youngsters, Musah was again being used as the frontman for a new era at the club.
There were no complaints though. This was a player whose electrifying displays with Mestalla made sure he caught the eye immediately. “He adapted very quickly to the dressing room, both for the youth teams and with Mestalla and he became just another one of the team. His joyful character helped and made it easier to adapt on the pitch,” Álvaro says. “He mixed up brilliant performances with some quieter ones, as is usual for his age, but you could already see what a good player he could become.”
With no clear direction at the top of the club, as indicated by the change in management just days before his signing was made official, Musah could be forgiven for struggling to kick on. But a worry-free player like him wasn’t going to be held back. By 2020/21, under Javi Gracia, he soon became a first-team regular.
Playing primarily on the right wing, stepping into the shoes of Ferran Torres, another promising youngster, his role is a slightly unusual one. Rather than being solely attacking-focused, he bombs up and down the flank like a wing-back in many ways. His pace and stamina mean that he can be the one to track back and defend, providing cover for the unconvincing Thierry Correia, or instead allowing Daniel Wass to move into a more central position.
Those same traits serve him well on the ball too. Primarily operating with his movement off the ball, he’ll tend to make a darting run in behind his full-back marker, rather than take them on with fancy dribbles and the ball at his feet. Even when he does, despite his youth and inexperience, he’s rarely allowed either of those weaknesses to show. With supreme confidence, he is a player that you can tell enjoys playing the game. Not only is he the kind of player to get fans out of their seats, but his smile is the biggest of all after a successful flick or trick.
With such a profile, it’s easy to see why some may have been surprised to see him step up quite so quickly and convincingly, but Musah’s rapid adaptation, perhaps dating back to his moving across the globe, has been clear. “He’s adapting to the increase in skill levels after his introduction from the youth ranks impressively; that’s never easy and he’s looked more comfortable with each game,” analyses beIN Sports commentator and SiriusXM FC 157 radio host Ray Hudson, himself once a player.
“Quality, composure and responsibility are clearly evident and it’s augmented by his athleticism, of course, but the athleticism is the easy part. It’s the range of his skills and decision-making that will be crucial to how far he can go, but so far so good,” Ray says. “The technical ability demanded of a footballer in LaLiga is higher than any other league; pace and power are nothing without control and the belief Valencia have shown in him, and what he’s shown them is that he’s got what it takes to blossom further in Spain's top league.”
An 18-year-old making his name in one of Europe’s biggest leagues, becoming a starter for one of the country’s biggest clubs, is what dreams are made of. But yet again, Musah wasn’t satisfied. His ambition didn’t stop there.
Next up was a call-up to the US men’s national team. Eligible for Ghana, the USA, England and Italy, he had featured for England at four different age groups and looked set to continue his journey with the Three Lions. That was before the States came calling and offered him the chance to become part of a golden generation of their own.
“[US coach] Gregg Berhalter has been extremely involved with dual nationals since he’s been appointed. Berhalter saw Musah’s talent and didn’t hesitate to call him up,” Daniel from USMNTTakes says.
“He has exceeded expectations in his first outings for the USMNT with many of us thinking he’s a lock starter for our national team, his quality really sticks out with our guys like Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams. I think with the US he sees a really high potential future where he can play a huge part, while in England he may not be given these chances as soon as the US are willing to give them.”
“The future for the USMNT is bright, very bright,” adds Ray, based in Florida. “The young prospects playing now in all of Europe's top leagues promise to be one of the best crops of young players the USA have ever had. Talent-wise, Yunus will have plenty of company with the likes of Gio Reyna, Sergiño Dest, McKennie, Adams, Zack Steffen and a growing number of others.”
Given the high profile and the finances involved in the game in the US, it’s easy to see why it could be a path Musah would wish to pursue. With the might of the US economy behind it and a talented generation coming through, Musah knows that it’s a gamble. He’s not going for the safe option, but then he’s never done that in his career so far anyway. Leaving Arsenal for Valencia was to take a gamble and make a statement to show his belief in his own abilities. Committing to the USMNT long-term would be a similar move, shrugging off the interest of Ghana, England and Italy, all more established powerhouses on the international football scene.
“The continual mushrooming of the game in the USA has been evident for decades but it’s entering into a different phase now, where more and more Americans are being given the chance to land at big foreign clubs and shine,” Ray considers, coinciding in pointing to a bright future for the USMNT, with Musah at the heart of it. “Yunus, like all the other national team players, has shown the character and skills to compete for a starting position and eclipse the abundance of local talent in these various countries, which is a huge advance for the game here as it inspires developing young footballers to perhaps follow their paths.
“There’ve been many other American players over the years who have used the various football leagues here as a path to Europe but probably not as many with as much genuine quality. The US national team has to benefit greatly from that when these players put on the country's shirt and are tested in the more intense arena of international football. “
The sky’s the limit for Musah. At every stage of his career, he’s shown that he is not afraid to dream big. That daring ambition to push himself and look to take the difficult route that others may not even begin to imagine pursuing is what has allowed him to get so far at the humble age of 18.
“If he continues with this humble and joyful character, motivated to learn, then he could be a world class winger,” Valencia fan Álvaro assesses. “He has all the attributes to do it – speed, strength, skill, shooting, he scores. He knows he has a lot to learn and if he works on improving defensively, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the greatest young talents in the world.”
While most may be daunted by the prospect of being labelled as “one of the greatest young talents in the world”, this is Yunus Musah. He’s an 18-year-old international and LaLiga regular. If anyone has the courage that Walt Disney says is needed to achieve the wildest of dreams, it’ll be this teen sensation.
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