A few months ago, Jamal Musiala looked like being England’s hottest young prospect – but now he may line up against them at Wembley on Tuesday night.
In November last year he made his England U21 debut and four days later scored his first goal. The Football Association, and England manager Gareth Southgate, breathed a collective sigh of relief, feeling they had convinced the then 17-year-old, already Bayern Munich’s youngest-ever Bundesliga player, to choose the Three Lions over the country of his birth.
Musiala had played a year up through most of his spell in Chelsea’s academy, dazzling along the way, and represented England throughout their youth levels. His only two games for Germany came as an U16 in 2018, and by his England U21 bow, even the German FA had thrown in the towel.
“He has clearly signalled to us that he currently sees his future with the English national teams,” their head of academy coaching Meikel Schonweitz said shortly after that debut appearance, frustrated one of Europe’s brightest talents had seemingly slipped through their fingers.
Barely six months on, Musiala, who turned 18 in February, may well line up against England at Wembley on Tuesday night thanks to a major role in the goal which kept Germany from an embarrassing Euro 2020 group-stage exit.
It would provide another rung on the ladder of a meteoric rise for the midfielder, but one Southgate can only wish was happening on his watch. The England manager, and the FA, may live to feel they were outfought.
Over a year prior to his England U21s debut, Musiala left Chelsea’s academy to join Bayern in the summer of 2019, but not before Germany manager Joachim Low had contacted him to convince him of his route through youth football to the German national team.
Andrew Martin, head of football at Croydon secondary school Whitgift which Musiala attended, acted as a mentor for the talented young player during his school days – and told Sky Sports how Low’s decision to strike up a similar relationship played a major part in deciding his destiny.
“I think that was a massive sway,” he said. “It’s where England have probably missed a trick, not convincing him to stay and to map out a pathway of their own.
“They saw him progressing, whether that be six months, 12 months, two years. Not only did Bayern want him, but one of the most powerful countries in world football had already made it clear where they wanted him in the future.
“When Jamal was with us he had offers from England and Germany, I remember speaking to him about the decision when he was U15. At that point, his preference was England.
“Playing on the English academy circuit, he knew the boys even if they were from Manchester City or Arsenal, they were playing against each other regularly and had a respect for each other. He didn’t feel as comfortable or know the players, and staff when he was with Germany.
“Moving to Germany at 16, he’s gone onto the German circuits, had a year playing in the German academy system, now he’s in the first team, so he’s used to playing in that system, in the Bundesliga every week, and unfortunately for England drifted away from the English system due to being a regular in the country.”
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Musiala’s quality is no surprise to anyone, from Martin up to Germany manager Low as well as the England set-up. An old head on young shoulders has allowed him to compete with world-class professionals, and even bail some of them out against Hungary, in the same month he should be graduating from sixth form.
It is with that in mind why in such a crunch game, which has more personal meaning to the teenager than any of his team-mates, there would be equally few eyebrows raised should Low trust him with a starting berth at Wembley.
“It’s crazy, if he’d stayed with us he would be leaving sixth form this week,” Martin told Sky Sports in the build-up to Tuesday’s game. “He’s helping set up the Germany equaliser to save them in the tournament, while his mates are having their final day at school.
“I messaged him after the Hungary game, telling him he had to beat England now – he replied saying ‘I’ll do my best, sir’. It just shows the type of character he is. He’s a German international and still calling me sir, he could call me anything he likes and I wouldn’t mind. His football speaks for itself, but I can’t speak highly enough of him as a character, he’s an outstanding young man.
“With how his mind works, he won’t think about the sentiment. It’ll just be another game. A big game, one he wants to win for his country, but I don’t think he’ll view it as playing England, where he grew up. Obviously there’ll be some affiliation, you don’t live somewhere for eight years and not grow some affiliation.
“There’ll be some sort of emotion there, but with the character that he is, that’ll be put to the back of his mind.”
The view from Germany: He’s incredible
Sky Germany reporter Uli Kohler previewed Tuesday’s game for Sky Sports and was full of praise for Musiala, who has long-since hit the headlines in Germany for a breakthrough season at Bayern where he scored six goals in only 870 minutes of Bundesliga football.
He said: “He’s incredible. Lothar Matthaus thinks he has to be in the starting line-up against England. I’m not so sure. I think it’s a lot of pressure on his young shoulders. This is the game of games, England vs Germany; it might be a bit too much for an 18-year-old, but you saw when he came off the bench what he could do.
“He was immediately right in the game – he has fun and he had two great moments in five minutes… more than the rest of the German attack had! I think he will be a real weapon if the game is close.
“I remember a story that he was driven to training on his birthday by his mother in an old Opel Corsa… all the other players had their Ferraris! Now he’s playing for the national side in the Euros at Wembley. It’s an incredible story!”
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