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'I left Arsenal because Valencia had a great plan for me' - USMNT ace Musah doesn't regret Mestalla move

15:00 GMT 18/02/2022
Yunus Musah United States 2021
The 19-year-old midfielder enjoyed his time in north London but he believes joining los Che was "a great decision" for his career

When Yunus Musah walks out at Mestalla ahead of Valencia's Liga clash with Barcelona on Sunday, he will do so not just with the eyes of Spain on him, but also many back in his homeland, the United States. 

Homeland perhaps in name only, though, with Musah born in New York to Ghanaian parents, but growing up in Italy and spending his formative years in England with Arsenal, before arriving in Spain in 2019 to begin his professional career.

However, the United States is the country he officially decided to represent in 2021, despite playing at youth levels for England, with his change of allegiance instantly making him one of the leading talents in the next generation of American players.

“You can’t spell Musah without USA,” cheered US Soccer as they announced the news. Coach Gregg Berhalter roared with delight on the phone when Musah confirmed his switch.

The tide is turning in the States, with football having overtaken ice hockey as the country’s fourth-most popular sport in December 2021, according to research from Ampere Analysis. 

A viral tweet this week showed American students tuning into the Champions League match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain during a lecture – a scene repeated across the country.

Each year, more players from the States are becoming fixtures in teams across Europe’s top five leagues. 

Christian Pulisic won the Champions League with Chelsea last year, Gio Reyna has had an injury-hit season but is returning for Borussia Dortmund, while Weston McKennie is a regular starter for Juventus.

The emerging talent, including Musah, are taking strides too, with Brenden Aaronson impressing at RB Salzburg and Ricardo Pepi joining German side Augsburg for a record-breaking $20 million (£14.7m) fee for an outgoing homegrown player in January.

“As you said we have so many great talents with the national team and everyone’s still got so much room to grow,” Musah told GOAL and other international media at an event this week. 

The USMNT suffered a painful defeat by Canada in January in a World Cup qualifier, leaving them second in the table with three games remaining.

The top three progress to Qatar 2022, while the fourth team enters the playoffs. Close behind the USA are Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica, who happen to be their final three opponents.

“You can see that we’re still learning, even though we’re a good team, we’re still learning,” explained Musah. 

“It’s going to take time. We’re going to make mistakes and you have to learn from them. Hopefully, this group stays together and gains experience together.”

His desire to improve and grow was one of the reasons he chose to leave Arsenal for Valencia, seeing a future for himself on Spain’s east coast, where they like to rely on talent coming from their youth academy. 

He has racked up 50 appearances for the club already, debuting in 2020 and becoming Los Che's second-youngest goalscorer.

“I was born in the Bronx, I’ve lived in various places, so it wasn’t hard to come into a new culture,” said Musah. 

“The thing that really attracted me was the history behind the club and knowing so many players from the academy had been given the opportunity to flourish in the first team.

“If they hadn’t been given the opportunity maybe we wouldn’t know those players now, but Valencia gave them [it] from young and it’s something that really attracted me and made me want to come and pursue my dreams here.”

Just looking at active players, there are big names that stand out.

From Carlos Soler and Jose Gaya, currently at the club, to Barcelona’s Ferran Torres, PSG’s Juan Bernat and Paco Alcacer at Villarreal, a lot of talented players have come through the Valencia academy.

At Arsenal Musah looked up to Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, while playing in youth teams with Bukayo Saka, Folarin Balogun and Emile Smith-Rowe. However, he trusted in Valencia's project and decided to move. 

“I played with Saka and Emil, great players and I’m happy they are playing in the Arsenal first team,” said Musah.

“But my decision to leave Arsenal was because I felt Valencia had a great plan for me, they provided me with so much trust, as you can see, and it was a great decision for me.”

It was a similar story when it came to his decision to represent the USA, ahead of England, Ghana and Italy. The project came first. 

Nico Estevez, currently in charge of FC Dallas, but Berhalter’s assistant with the USMNT at the time and a former Valencia coach, alerted his boss to Musah’s talent. 

“I really enjoyed my time with England, the coaches and the players were amazing, but then came a time where I was playing in the first team at Valencia and the US coaches were talking to me a lot about the project they had and that I would play a big part in it,” explained Musah.

“Having the first team manager (Berhalter) from the national team call me made me so excited. As you can see we have a great team with the US, and the project could be something big. I am glad to be part of it.”

The feeling is clearly mutual, with both Valencia and the US thrilled to have Musah at their disposal for the years ahead.

Valencia academy General Director Sean Bai enthused by Musah’s rise. Not just in terms of his footballing talent, but his attitude and personality.

“If only we had a few more Yunuses among us!” Bai laughed. “He has been a very good example of a successful case study for a lot of people of how a boy from a very different culture has made it here.

“It has helped us a lot, it has given us a lot more visibility and attention in terms of the markets in the US and outside of Europe.

"But when we went for Yunus, it wasn’t so much about what passport he has but the personality he holds and the attitude he has. 

“I’ll give you an example. When Yunus first came here he was very quickly training with the second team, the reserve team, but he wasn’t doing as well at that moment so we brought him back down to the U19 team.

“For most players, they would have got frustrated, unhappy, complained to his agent, to the sporting director.

"[But] he went down, played his heart out, smiling every training session, every game, and he eventually jumped to the first team.

“So, what we see in Yunus is actually not whether he’s an American, English, Italian or Ghanaian player, but a player with such a strong hunger to improve and strong motivation to succeed at the highest level of football.

“I think what helped us is that the qualities of Yunus, other than the sporting side, have given an indication to a lot of other aspiring footballers around the world, to look at the ingredients that are necessary for success in Europe.”

This weekend Musah will clash with a team-mate who plays behind him in USA colours, Barcelona defender Sergino Dest, another who chose the USMNT, this time over Netherlands.

If Bai is right, those watching on from the States, including the waves of fledgling talent that will inevitably follow year on year now the bottle has been uncorked, might learn a thing or two.

Watch Valencia CF take on FC Barcelona exclusively on LaLigaTV on Sunday 20th February, live at 3.15pm, available via Premier Sports and Amazon Prime Video Channels in the UK.