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'Messi has nothing to prove' - Inter target Musso on Argentina, Udinese and his Champions League dream

8:00 PM GMT+8 20/05/2021
Juan Musso Lionel Messi Udinese Argentina GFX
In an exclusive interview with Goal, the in-demand Udinese goalkeeper discusses his career to date and transfer speculation surrounding his future

Juan Musso is as agreeable an interviewee as one could hope to find in football.

The Argentine is courteous, engaging, insightful and funny. When I begin our interview with a pre-emptive apology for my heavily Irish-accented Italian, Musso replies, "That's okay – I don't speak it well either!"

He's humble too, you see. Musso's Italian is as impressive as his goalkeeping. He's assured on and off the field.

"I feel like I'm someone who's always quite calm," he says in response to the suggestion that most goalkeepers are a little crazy. 

But there's one topic that provokes a passionate response from an otherwise wonderfully laid-back character.

Musso wholeheartedly disagrees with the old argument that his compatriot Lionel Messi needs to win a major international tournament to prove himself the greatest player of all time.

It's a delicate issue to raise with an Argentine, of course, but this feels like an opportune time, with the Copa America looming large on the horizon.

Musso, though, can't understand those who have lingering doubts over Messi's greatness.

"I don't agree with that view at all. Leo doesn't need to win anything else to show he's the best," Musso tells Goal

"He deserves to win a major tournament but football doesn't work like that. There were three finals (two Copa Americas and a World Cup final) where he played really well, and the team too, and we didn't manage to win. 

"But it's clear that he's always done well for the national team. To win or lose a final, we all know that that difference is made only by details. 

"For me, he is the best of all time. So, I don't agree with what they say, that he has to win an international tournament. He has nothing left to prove."

It's a valid point, of course. Messi should be judged on his extraordinary exploits over the past 15 years, for club and country, rather than his trophy haul at international level.

Certain games, though, can shape the narrative of a player's career. Musso knows that himself. 

On Sunday, his Udinese side will travel to San Siro to face Inter. It's a big day for the Nerazzurri, who will lift their first Serie A trophy since 2010. 

It will also be a special occasion for Samir Handanovic, who will replace Walter Zenga as the Inter goalkeeper with the most appearances in Italy's top flight. 

However, Musso's performance will arguably of even greater interest to the home side's supporters, as the Argentine has been repeatedly touted as Handanovic's successor.

It would be ridiculous to make one's mind up on Musso's credentials as a top-level shot-stopper based solely on Sunday's game, though. Whatever happens at the Giuseppe Meazza, he has already sealed his status as one of the finest goalkeepers in Serie A.

Indeed, since making his league debut on October 28, 2018, Musso has kept 29 clean sheets – only Handanovic (36) and AC Milan No.1 Gianluigi Donnarumma have made more (40) during that time.

It's a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that Udinese are a mid-table club and one hardly renowned for their defensive solidity.

The Friulani are famed for their fruitful recruitment strategy, though, and in Musso, they've pulled off another transfer market masterstroke.

The Argentine arrived from Racing Club in 2018 for just €4 million (£3.5m/$4.9m). He's arguably worth eight times that figure now. Which is not bad for someone whose first love was basketball.

"My childhood idols were more NBA players than footballers," he admits, laughing. "I liked guys like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal so much."

However, his father had always felt his son would excel in between the posts, and so it proved.

"I played basketball for a short while, about a year, but I went in goal one time while playing football with a friend, and he started taking shots at me," Musso explains, "and it went well. 

"I liked everything about it: flying through the air, diving on the ball. So, I joined a club that was lacking a goalkeeper, the club where my friends were playing. I played both basketball and football for a while but I always liked football more."

That was hardly surprising, given it quickly became clear that his father was right: Musso was perfectly suited to the role of goalkeeper. He was promptly picked up by Racing Club and he progressed rapidly from the youth team to the senior squad.

He spent the early part of his professional career on the bench but he nailed down a regular starting spot in 2017 and, by the end of his first full season in Avellaneda, Musso had caught the attention of European scouts.

Udinese would have been an attractive option anyway, given they boast an excellent reputation for developing players, particularly those from outside of Italy.

However, in midfielder Rodrigo De Paul, they were also in possession of another Racing academy graduate willing to sing the club's praises.

"Rodrigo spoke very well about Udinese and even other people from Argentina told me how things worked there," Musso reveals.

"After just one full season in Argentina, I always felt like I would need a period of adaptation. But Udinese convinced me because it's a team where you can develop, where you can start your career in Europe in the best way."

When Musso arrived, the prodigiously talented Simone Scuffet was Udinese's first-choice goalkeeper.

However, the hometown hero suffered a dip in form at the start of the 2018-19 season, presenting Musso with a chance to stake a claim for a starting spot.

He's been Udinese's No.1 ever since, missing just three games – through a combination of injury and suspension – over the past two-and-a-half years.

In that time, only Luigi Sepe has made more saves in Serie A, which helps explain why Musso is one of the most in-demand goalkeepers in Italy right now.

It was even thought that he might be snapped up last summer, with Atletico Madrid reported to have considered him as a potential replacement for Jan Oblak, who was again being linked with a move away from the Wanda Metropolitano.

However, the transfer talk has intensified again in recent weeks, with Roma and Inter said to be leading the race to sign the 27-year-old.

Musso, unsurprisingly, is reluctant to be drawn on his preferred destination. He also doesn't want to create any problems for Udinese, who have been so good to him. But he makes no attempt to hide his ambition of playing at the very highest level.

"I've already said that the Champions League for me is a dream," he admits. "The teams that play in the Champions League are great clubs, so I'd be very happy if an offer arrived that was good for both myself and Udinese.

"It would please me a lot if we were all content because when this happens, everyone wins."

New Roma boss Jose Mourinho could certainly use a reliable goalkeeper at the Stadio Olimpico next season, but a move to San Siro would make even more sense if Inter can resolve their financial problems.

Not only has Handanovic's form been called into question this season, a move to Milan would reunite Musso with another Racing alumni, Lautaro Martinez.

"We see each other a lot, and also when we join up with the national team," Musso says of his fellow Argentine. "I saw him grow up in the youth team at Racing and we were in the first team together for a while. 

"Now, we're both in Serie A, so whenever we see each other, there's a good relationship there. He's playing for a great team in Inter, the best team in Italy and they have an incredible history.

"But I'm calm here. I'm just taking it one game at a time. I don't want to go crazy thinking about the transfer talk. Let's say I don't lose any sleep over these rumours!"

And you believe him. After all, he has more immediate concerns.

On Sunday, Musso was named in the Argentina squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Colombia.

Home-based players weren't considered for selection on this occasion but it now seems unlikely that there will be any changes in personnel before coach Lionel Scaloni confirms his panel for the Copa America, which gets under way in Buenos Aires on June 13.

So, inclusion obviously bodes well for Musso and his hopes of adding to his solitary Albiceleste cap to date.

"When the list came out and I was in it, I was very happy because the national team is the main objective for me in my career," he says. "I'm happy I'll get to go there to give my best as always and then the coach will make his decision over who starts. 

"But for Argentina to win the Copa would be a joy for everyone. The national team deserves to win something because of the players it has, and has had in the past. There's also always an obligation to win and we know that. We'll go into it with high expectations."

And why not? 

After all, in Messi they have the best player of all time.

And in Musso, a gifted goalkeeper destined to realise his Champions League dream sooner rather than later.