He was an academy star at Arsenal and captained England’s youth teams, but he was born during a family vacation in New York that paved the way for Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah to realize his World Cup dream.
England manager Gareth Southgate has suggested he would like Musah’s future to be with the Three Lions. But the 19-year-old, who was also eligible for Ghana, opted for the United States.
He could face one of his former academy team-mates in Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka on Friday as the United States take on England in their second Group B game in Qatar.
“I’m both English and American,” Musah told BBC Sport. “I had a great time in England. I loved it every time, I had lots of camps, great people and everything.
“It got to a point where I was playing in the first team [at Valencia] and playing in the under-19s when I went to the national team.
“Gregg (Berhalter, coach of the United States) called me and told me about the project with the United States. He told me how much he wanted me in the team and I was only 17 years at the time. For a first-team coach to want me badly really helped my decision.
“Things happen in mysterious ways, I was born in the United States for a reason. Now I play for the national team and I love it. I had to make some big decisions in my career and they paid off stopped.”
England and USA drew 1-1 in their last World Cup match, in South Africa in 2010. Musah had a feeling they would meet again.
“What a special game it will be,” he said. “Having lived in England, knowing how England is as a society as people, just to share the pitch with them and knowing that all of England is going to watch this game, as well as the United States, that’s just a special moment so I hope it goes well.
“It will be the biggest game of my career.
“I think I’ll be smiling more than usual. The memories of how things went, it’s crazy. Playing against England on the biggest stage, sharing the pitch with hopefully Bukayo Also, it will be crazy.”
“I felt I was ready, Valencia gave me the opportunity”
Musah says playing with his older brothers is the reason he progressed so quickly. He signed for Arsenal just months after arriving in England, but did not realize the significance of his achievement until he began to be recognized by his new school friends.
“I got there, settled down and went to school, then just joined the local team,” he said. “Right away I was scouted for Arsenal, it was crazy. I was just the happiest kid because playing football, going to school, it was great.
“I remember the day. I moved to England on January 12, 2012 and over the Easter break I was testing for Arsenal and was signed, that’s how it went quickly.
“It was really overwhelming and I didn’t understand the importance of it until I got into school and then all of a sudden everyone was like ‘Yo, this guy is playing for Arsenal “and I was like ‘wow this is a big deal here, you know’. It was a big thing and I was happy about it.”
Things didn’t slow down for Musah who took academy football in his stride, playing with Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, and with Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott on international duty.
He captained Arsenal’s youth teams and says they made him the player he is today.
However, Musah did not stay in North London and make the first team. He left the club after seven years and opted to join Valencia in La Liga in 2019.
“At the time I was 16 and I felt I could take the leap into first-team football and I felt I was ready for it,” he said.
“I had a lot of confidence in myself. Why still be with the 18, 23? I want to play in the first team.
“A lot of people said it was too early to think about that and I agree it may be too soon, and you have to be patient, but I just felt like I could do it.
“Valencia made me a great offer to come here, start with the B team, train with the first team and push me into the first team when I deserved it. This opportunity, a great team in Spain, caught my eye.
“My first season in the B team wasn’t really great. I played 17 games and I didn’t even start most of them. It was tough times. It allowed me to become stronger and better.
“The pre-season came and I just stayed here [in the first team]. I couldn’t come down. I just wanted to stay in the first team and work hard.”
“We want to change the way the world views American football”
Musah was the first Englishman to play for Valencia and since switching sides he is also the first American to represent the club.
He’s one of many talented young Americans playing for their club soccer in Europe and Musah says a team dubbed America’s “golden generation” wants to send a message to the rest of the world.
“One of our goals as a group is to change the way the world views American football,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity to do it at the World Cup.
“We’re so ambitious. We want to go all the way. We think game by game. Taking it like that, the next thing you know is you’re further in the competition.
“That’s what I think we should do, even though I’ve never been to a World Cup before. Gregg has played in two World Cups – he’s a manager who knows and I trust him.”
The World Cup will be the culmination of bets Musah has taken throughout his career, but he feels he made the right choices.
“When I made my decisions, both for Valencia and for the United States, I said ‘whatever happens, I will make sure the situation works out for the best and I don’t regret it. ‘”, did he declare.
“If something goes wrong along the way, I shouldn’t think ‘I wish I had done this or that’, just keep going or make it work.
“Everything happens for a reason so I don’t regret it at all. I was happy with what happened at Arsenal and England but I don’t regret my decisions.”