From the US to Italy to the UK to Spain, Valencia winger Yunus Musah has had a remarkable and unique journey. FTF interviewed his former coaches as part of an exclusive look into his promising career.
Born in New York City to Ghanaian parents, Yunus Musah and his family upped sticks quickly, making Italy home. This wouldn’t be the first time the tricky attacker would be required to adapt to new surroundings.
Settling in Castelfranco Veneto, a 25-mile drive from Venice, Musah joined local club Giorgione Calcio 2000. First Time Finish spoke to his former coach at the club, Giulio Rinaldi, about Musah’s early steps.
Triumph in Treviso
‘Football is my passion and once I stopped my career for a knee injury, I started coaching at Giorgione Academy at the age of 19. At the moment I’m one of the coaches of U12 and U13 teams,’ said Rinaldi.
‘In September 2008, I first met Yunus Musah who played at Giorgione until December 2011. I still remember the first time Yunus went to the training field. He was a kid who was extremely enthusiastic to start playing football but, that day, there wasn’t a training session for kids of his age. I saw his eyes really sad so I asked him if he’d like to play with the older guys.’
From an early age, it was evident to Rinaldi that Musah was a cut above his peers. His timid personality was understandable given his age but Yunus Musah had a natural talent that Rinaldi could not ignore. The coach also kindly sent some incredible photos of Musah as a child, published exclusively on First Time Finish.
‘Although he was very shy, he accepted and took part in the game. Immediately I realized he was special. Even if he never played football before, his skills looked brilliant at first sight. In only 5 minutes he scored two goals despite being under aged.’
Even as a young child, Yunus Musah had an eye for a goal and a distinctive winning mentality.
‘With his team he won lots of tournaments. The most important was a five-a-side tournament against some of the most important professional teams of Veneto,’ Giulio Rinaldi told First Time Finish.
‘In the final match against Bassano Vicenza (a team in the Italian Lega Pro), Yunus played as goalkeeper. We won the match 5-3 and he scored 4 goals: everytime he made a save, he put the ball down and started dribbling everyone.’
Yunus Musah’s attitude and his sheer pleasure, playing the game he loved, came across at Giorgione and Rinaldi was touched.
‘The thing that most impressed me about Yunus was his happiness and his humility when he was playing. He was always smiling, doesn’t matter if we won or we lost the matches. He was always encouraging his teammates and he was grateful to everyone in Giorgione.
‘Most of the time his parents couldn’t bring him to the training or matches because of their jobs, so we often came to his house and took him with us.’
Yunus Musah and his family moved to London when he was nine. Following a brief stint playing Sunday League in East London, the youngster joined Arsenal’s academy.
Giulio Rinaldi was overjoyed and took a trip to London to congratulate him.
‘One day I was in London and I came to the Arsenal Youth Centre to surprise him. I waited for him outside the centre. The training finished at 5 p.m. but Yunus went out at 6.30 p.m. because he stayed on the field for extra training of his technical skills,’ Rinaldi said.
Rinaldi is adamant that Yunus Musah’s qualities will lead to major success in the future.
At only 18, the USMNT-capped forward has made 27 league apperances, half of them starts, for La Liga strugglers Valencia.
But before we look into his senior breakthrough, we take a dive into Yunus Musah’s time in Arsenal’s academy.
Impressing the coaches
FTF spoke to ex-Arsenal academy coach Trevor Bumstead about his time working with Yunus Musah. He coach remembers Musah fondly, echoing Giulio Rinaldi’s opinions of the Valencia star.
‘I was the under-16 coach and Yunus was playing up a year group. He was a really likeable lad. He had a fantastic smile, was very softly spoken but sociable,’ Bumstead said.
‘As a player, he was ‘wow’. He’s got fantastic physical attributes and the drive and determination to go with that. He would play anywhere to get in the team but his favourite was as a central attacking midfield player.
‘His versatility is a coaches’ dream really.’Trevor Bumstead, former Arsenal U16 coach
Having worked with England internationals and fully-fledged Arsenal stars, Trevor Bumstead doesn’t hesitate when placing Yunus Musah in the same category.
‘It’s always difficult predicting who will go on to play first-team football. Having worked with Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, I would consider Musah to be on the same level as those,’ Bumstead told us.
‘His physical stats at under-16 would compare to our first-team players. The sports scientists dragged him off the pitch. He was consistent in his behaviours which led him to be consistent in his performances. He recognised his strengths and weaknesses.’
Success in Spain
Like many budding Premier League players in English academies, Yunus Musah made the decision to move abroad to fulfil his first-team aspirations.
In August 2020, he switched to La Liga club Valencia. ‘Los murciélagos’, struggling under the failing ownership of Peter Lim, gave him a first-team debut in a 4-2 victory over Levante.
Having stated he prefers to play centrally, Javi Gracia has played Yunus Musah as a winger on both the left and right flanks this season.
At first glance, Yunus Musah has failed to really make his mark this season. With only one goal and no assists in his 27 league appearances, many would write this season off for him.
But a number of things need to be taken into account. Firstly, he is only 18 and has at least five years to find his feet and bed into the side. Secondly, he has been used as a substitute in around half of the matches he has featured in.
One also has to acknowledge the chaos at Valencia. In the recent future, Los Che let go of star players such as Ferran Torres, Dani Parejo, Norberto Neto and João Cancelo.
Once a club winning La Liga titles under Rafa Benítez, Valencia sit in 13th at the time of writing, with only eight wins in 30 and still, mathematically, threatened by the prospect of relegation.
Leeds owner Andrea Radrizziani and oil-rich Malaysian prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim have been tipped to take over at the Mestalla, but talk has died down in recent times.
Yunus Musah doesn’t rank too highly statistically, even if we look at under-23 attacking players in La Liga this season but, at 18, the room for growth is colossal.
Due to his birth in the States, upbringing in Italy, teenage years in England and his Ghanaian heritage, Yunus Musah was spoilt for choice when it came to selecting his national team.
Capped for England from U15 to U18 level, the winger was called up to the US mens’ national team by Gregg Berhalter in November 2020.
The New York-born starlet featured four times and, in March, made an assist in a 4-1 win over Jamaica.
However, Yunus Musah has still only appeared in friendlies for the USMNT so could change his mind. But the youngster is set on representing his birth country in the future.
In a YouTube video for the official U.S. Soccer channel, Yunus Musah said: ‘I decided to represent the United States, first and foremost because it’s the country I was born in. I feel like the project that we have is so exciting.’
Giorgione coach Giulio Rinaldi thinks Musah could have forged a career with any of his potential national sides.
‘I hope to see him at the next World Cup, it doesn’t matter if he’ll wear the Ghanaian, English, American or Italian jersey. What really matters is seeing him at the highest level,’ he said.
England boss Gareth Southgate supposedly approached Musah to persuade him to stick with the Three Lions, but his head was turned by an exciting project in the States, bursting at the seams with talent of a similar age.
Have England missed out on a potential star? The next five years will be crucial in Yunus Musah’s progression to a top-level talent. First Time Finish will certainly keep a keen eye on him.