Yunus Musah has already had to make a number of bold decisions that have shaped his young career.
Leaving Arsenal to join Valencia at 16 was an option, opting to represent the US after playing his youth football with England, and those choices appear to have paid dividends with the teenage midfielder becoming an integral part of both. settings.
At Valencia, they see the 19-year-old as a perfect example of what the La Liga club is trying to achieve by recruiting young players into their esteemed academy.
Musah played with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Folarin Balogun during his seven years in north London – while he aspired to one day be a Mesut Ozil or Olivier Giroud on his travels to the Emirates – but was convinced by Valencia that his future was in in Spain.
“It wasn’t hard to get into a new culture,” says Musah, who was born in New York to Ghanaian parents and lived in Italy until the age of nine, when he moved to London.
“What really appealed to me was the history behind the club, knowing that so many academy players had the opportunity to flourish in the first team. It made me want to pursue my dreams here.
“Living in Spain was great. I met a lot of people and learned the language – it’s another experience I’ve added to my life and the best part is that I’m doing it while doing what I love, which is playing football.”
Musah is expected to play his 20th game of the season in La Liga when Valencia host Barcelona on Sunday, and his 60th in all competitions since joining the first team aged 17 last season.
“At this age, playing in the first team and having the club’s confidence to play week after week is incredible,” adds Musah, who also has 13 caps for the US.
‘The first reaction is very painful’
Valencia have a reputation for developing world-class players, but in recent years this has become more of a necessity for a club struggling with financial constraints, with the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out half of their revenue.
They responded to the €100m loss – around £80m – by selling five key players in the summer of 2020, including Ferran Torres to Manchester City and Rodrigo Moreno to Leeds.
“The first reaction is very painful,” says Valencia president Anil Murthy. “You need to reduce your team’s costs, you do that by putting aside the players who are earning the most; that reduces the quality of your team as well.
“You also have to have a medium-term perspective, because we want this club to be fixed and you can’t stop growing, and you keep growing off the pitch – off the pitch is a smaller investment than paying or buying football players.”
The off-field projects he refers to include the completion of Valencia’s Nou Mestalla stadium, where construction began 15 years ago, and the development of its gym.
The Singaporean says Valencia “are not out of the hole” financially and will continue to invest in potential youngsters “who bring him higher value in the future”, adding that they “do not hesitate to sell” when the time is right for the club.
But Murthy says rebuilding the squad is a “much easier solution” and this season Valencia have kept their most important assets despite offers for Portuguese striker Gonçalo Guedes, while adding promising youngsters on loan from RB Leipzig’s Ilaix Moriba and Bryan at Tottenham. Gil.
‘Is he recovering? Back tracking? Talking to coaches?
More than 100 graduates have made their Valencia debut since the academy’s opening in 1992, but the club is constantly looking for ways to improve.
They have reduced the number of players in each age group to focus on “quality over quantity” and have spent money on improving the scout to bring in more international players, with youngsters from Japan, Senegal and Norway now on their books.
“We decided to put the player at the center of the project and surround him with all the elements that are important”, explains the general director of the academy, Sean Bai.
“Day by day we create a culture of learning and self-actualization.”
There is also an identity department, which sets out to convey the club’s “DNA” to all age groups and provide a stream of talent for the first team.
“Our ultimate goal for the academy is to one day see a player wear the jersey and you can associate him with being a Valencia player for the style of play and values he is transmitting,” says Bai.
A big focus is on personality and what players do off the field, with academy prospects passing school exams to train and play.
“We spend time talking to people around them, friends and teammates, our contacts who might know them, family,” says Bai. “What is their style and how are they in the dressing room? Are they players who can assimilate to Valencia and play in a team?”
He says that in addition to looking at the “highlights of all the players, young players too”, a big focus is on whether they are “performing at the level for the rest of the game” and in training, showing that they “deserve a place in the academy.” of Valencia”.
He adds: “The moments when the player loses the ball, is he recovering, tracking, helping his team right away? talk to your teammates and the coach? Are they angry? How do they react?”
That’s why Musah is so respected.
“When Yunus arrived here, very quickly he was training with the reserve team, he wasn’t doing so well at the moment, so we brought him back to the under-19s,” says Bai.
“Most players would be frustrated, unhappy, complaining to their agent or sporting director. Yunus came down and played with his heart, smiling in every practice and game, and ended up jumping for the first team.”
The teenager says these aspects of his character stem from his family keeping him grounded, making sure he did well in school and “stays on the right track”.
“My parents definitely made a lot of sacrifices,” he says.
“My family coming from Ghana, not from the wealthier parts, and changing their lives going to Italy, the US and England, all to give their kids a better life.
“I am very grateful for that and for the values they taught me. Every day I try to implement them in my life and in my football.”
Musah’s progress has simultaneously helped to open doors for Valencia in the US and outside Europe and has also provided the perfect model for the qualities the club is trying to instill in young players.
“What we see in Yunus is not an English, American, Italian or Ghanaian player, but a player with such a strong will to improve and such a strong motivation to succeed at the highest level of football,” says Bai.
“These are the necessary ingredients for success in Europe and this has allowed us to attract many more players in that mold. I hope we can have similar success to what we had with Yunus.”