Jamal Musiala spent nine years in England, but the Stuttgart-born player moved back to Germany two years ago and plays for Bayern Munich
Credit: GETTY IMAGES / ACTION IMAGES
Joachim Löw had 10 minutes on Wednesday night to ensure that 15 years as Germany manager did not end in failure. The solution? Bring on Jamal Musiala who, at 18 years and 117 days, became the youngest player to represent Germany in a major tournament.
The outcome? Musiala sprinted to the byline, turned inside Hungary right-back Loic Nego and teed up Leon Goretzka for the goal that secured a last-16 tie against England.
The twist? Musiala, who graduated through the Chelsea academy and represented England at Under-15, 16, 17 and 21 age-group levels, could just as easily be playing for Gareth Southgate’s team during this European Championship.
Next Tuesday’s showdown will also not be Musiala’s first Wembley-related encounter with the England manager. Aged only 10, Musiala was the star player at the Corpus Christi Catholic Primary School in New Malden when Southgate made a visit ahead of their victorious appearance in the national finals.
Tony Mesourouni, the school’s sports lead, said: “Gareth did a training session and then said to me, ‘You have got some very talented players, including the No 10 – he’s very, very good.’ It was Jamal. We then played at Wembley the following week and Jamal scored four goals.”
Musiala has played for England at Under-15, 16, 17 and 21 level, but now represents Germany
Musiala, who goes by the nickname “Bambi” in Germany’s squad, was born in Stuttgart and grew up in the town of Fulda until the age of seven. He then lived and studied in England before joining Bayern Munich two years ago. It all adds up to an equal split of nine years in England, nine in Germany and what has been a genuinely agonising decision over his senior international future.
“I have a heart for Germany and a heart for England – both hearts will keep on beating,” he says.
Blood first began flowing to that English heart when his family moved to Southampton so that his mother, Carolin, could take part in a four-month Erasmus programme as part of her master’s degree at Frankfurt’s Goethe University. Musiala had already shown enormous promise playing at TSV Lehnerz and, in his search for a local club, his father, Rich, simply pitched up outside Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium and knocked on the door.
He was greeted by Jazz Bhatti, who works for the Saints Foundation charity and also helps run the City Central club with his brother Rosh. “We do regularly have parents knocking and you try to signpost them well,” he says. “Rosh had this wonderful coaching set-up in inner-city Southampton with a richly diverse group of kids. I suggested this session on a Saturday morning and said, ‘Why not take him along?’”
Musiala could not speak a word of English but, within 10 minutes of seeing him play, Rosh was making an urgent phone call to his brother.
“Some of the stuff he was doing was ridiculous – I couldn’t believe that he was seven,” he says. “Everything we demonstrated, he would do better than us. He was a special person as well. In one game, he scored five goals very quickly but could see that some of his team-mates were upset they hadn’t scored. He then tried to make sure they all scored. They all did except one and he was so upset.
“The kids loved him. They would hang around just to watch him train. He was with us for six months, but left an amazing legacy.”
A Twitter posting by Rosh, dated January 2011, correctly predicted that seven-year-old Musiala would become a professional footballer.
With Carolin’s university course finished, and scouts from Southampton, Chelsea and Arsenal now all desperate to sign him, the family were faced with a major decision. A job opportunity for Carolin in Surrey ultimately helped sway their thinking and so it was that Musiala joined Chelsea and was enrolled at Corpus Christi. He inspired the school to victories in three national tournaments but it was not just his football that left a lasting impression. He learnt to read, write and speak fluently in English.
He excelled at chess and would compose poems, including one entitled Moment about a professional football trial that was published in a young writers’ book. “It could have been all football but he was determined to do well in everything,” says Mesourouni. “I think this is part of what makes him so intelligent on the pitch. Chess is tactical – it’s all about the next move. He was fantastic to teach.”
A scholarship followed to Whitgift School in South Croydon, an independent boys’ school which also counts Victor Moses, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Elliot Daly, Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley among its alumni.
The school’s football coach, Andrew Martin, had already noticed Musiala when Corpus Christi knocked his team out of the Surrey Cup semi-finals. “They beat us 8-4 and I think Jamal scored four or five. He was an amazing boy – humble, down to earth, respectful and dedicated.”
Musiala’s English had become so fluent that his early background was now only apparent in German language lessons or when he was speaking with his parents.
Martin says that Rich would be at every game and take a hands-on interest. “He had a great balance. His dad would ask questions, want to know what I thought and his mum is very calm and composed.”
Carolin still drives her son to training every day at Bayern.
Euros – Road to the final
Two Whitgift School matches remain etched in Martin’s memory. “We went to Plymouth for a national quarter-final and, within five minutes, Jamal scored a hat-trick. It finished 10-0 and Jamal scored seven. He was clinical and ruthless. There was then a semi-final when he was 13 against quite a few boys who were at Peterborough. A big physical team and they had the whole school watching the game. So 400 or 500 kids on the sidelines.
“Jamal was kicked from pillar to post in the first half. Bigger boys would normally target him, purely because he would make them look silly at times.
“At half-time, I called him over and said, ‘I believe in you, your team-mates believe in you, when you get your chances we will score’. Lo and beheld, Jamal scored twice and we won 3-1. That showed his steely determination. He would never whinge, dive, moan or say anything to the referee. He would bounce up and do his stuff.”
Martin is still in regular contact with Musiala and says that he was genuinely “torn” over the choice between England and Germany. He senses that joining Munich in 2019 was decisive. “I know when he was living in England that his preference was England, due to playing on the academy circuit,” says Martin. “I think the simple answer is that you flip that over and he’s playing in the Bundesliga with German players. He probably felt more comfortable. I’m Welsh. I think he has made the right decision.
“Would Southgate have picked him for the Euros? I’m not too sure.”
Musiala, who was also eligible for Nigeria via his father, most recently played for England Under-21s in a European Championship qualifier in November. The Munich players, notably Joshua Kimmich and Serge Gnabry, were apparently especially influential and it is understood that Oliver Bierhoff, Germany’s team director, made a number of interventions with video conference calls during the Covid-19 pandemic. There was also a personal meeting with Löw who, with Musiala becoming Bayern’s youngest-ever goalscorer and Bundesliga player last season, indicated that he would be involved in his Euro 2020 squad.
Aidy Boothroyd, England Under-21 manager up until April, said he was a player in the Jack Grealish mould. “Physically he’s not finished – he’s going to be a brute of a man. He’s got that spatial awareness and he’s razor-sharp. When you’re working in Germany, speak German and you live with your German mum – it’s very difficult to persuade him that he’s actually English.”
Musiala exchanged WhatsApp messages with Jude Bellingham, England’s Germany-based midfielder, after Wednesday’s draw against Hungary. He says England will “always remain” a home.
“It was not an easy decision,” he said. “In the end I just listened to my feeling that it was the right decision to play for Germany, the land I was born in. But the language of football and the kindness of the British people helped me with my integration. It is the moment, the passion and, of course, the fun which unites people. It’s the magic of football. All of that has made me the person I am today. At Wembley against England? That will be cool.”