Welcome to the latest edition of the Wonderkid Files, a weekly scouting report on one of the world’s hottest prospects – and this week, we give you the lowdown on a young man in demand, with West Ham United reportedly lining up a bid after Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all sent scouts to take a look. This is Yunus Musah.
Born in New York City while his Ghanaian parents were on holiday there, Musah moved to Italy at a young age and then on to England, where he played for Arsenal’s youth teams from the ages of nine to sixteen – at which point he was moved on to Valencia, and it’s in sunny Andalucia where his career has blossomed.
Making his La Liga debut at the age of 17, Musah quickly established himself as a regular under Javi Gracia and impressed enough to be called up to the senior United States squad within two months, deciding to switch his international allegiance despite Gareth Southgate’s attempts to persuade him to continue playing for England.
Initially playing mostly as a right winger as part of a 4-4-2 formation, he now typically plays as the right-hand player in a three-man midfield, although he has reverted to playing on the wing in the past month or so as Valencia chop and change formations in the midst of their relegation battle. He’s a pacey, high-effort player who presses hard and covers a huge amount of ground battling for his team, but he’s primarily known for his dribbling skills.
A player who seldom looks for a pass when the opportunity to beat his man arises, Musah’s passing statistics are below par – although they are improving - but his numbers for carries are impressive, making over three progressive plays with the ball at his feet per game, which is up there with the best in the business. He’s also positionally astute and gets into good areas for his team-mates, making space high up the field of play and furthering his team’s attacks.
The big problem with Musah is that, while he’s a hard-grafting and tidy team player who knows how to help his side get the ball moving up the pitch, he presents a minimal threat to the goal in his own right – he hasn’t scored from any of his 22 shots this season, and after picking up a pair of assists against Getafe in September, hasn’t set up a single goal for his team since.
Part of this could perhaps be explained by his team being pretty terrible – fan protests outside the Mestalla are a routine sight as they battle against relegation – but there’s no doubt that his production isn’t great. He works best as a cog in a larger machine, and can’t be expected to be responsible for getting the ball in the back of the net.
In some ways, then, he brings to mind a player like Jordan Henderson, linking and progressing play without being much of a threat in his own right. But while he’s certainly faster and more offensively-minded than Henderson, he lacks the top-level defensive nous of the best players in that ‘water carrier’ role.
All of which makes the prospect of West Ham signing him quite intriguing, and the British press have made a lot of noise about the deal in the last few days. If his future is as a game-linking midfielder, then he will need to improve his tackling and defensive positioning – from a respectable base, mind you, this wouldn’t be like asking a cat to learn to juggle – and if he sees himself as a right-winger or a more attack-minded player, then he needs to contribute some more to the xG tally.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all cropped in connection with Musah in the last nine months or so, with reports of scouts attending game and tentative enquiries made – but it’s West Ham who have emerged as the strongest contender. Whoever Musah ends up playing for, it’s clear that plenty of clubs see a player who can be moulded into something special, and while he still has some way to go before he has the well-rounded game Premier League teams would want, there’s little doubt that he has the attitude required to make some big leaps forward.
Speaking to the BBC in 2022, Valencia’s academy director Sean Bai waxed lyrical about Musah: “What we see in Yunus is… a player with such a strong hunger to improve and such a strong motivation to succeed at the highest level of football.”
He also described how Musah picked himself up after initially struggling to acclimatise following his move from Arsenal: “Most players would have got frustrated, unhappy, complained to their agent or the sporting director. Yunus went down and played his heart out, smiling in every training session and every game, and eventually he jumped to the first team."
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That should probably be the final word on Musah – a grafter, an athlete, and an improving player with some strings to add to his bow yet, but enough to impress some of the best teams in Europe and earn 25 caps for the United States, including ever game they played at the Qatar World Cup. At the rate he’s developed and improved, you wouldn’t want to bet against him becoming a seriously good player somewhere down the line.
The Wonderkid Files