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The story of how Yunus Musah chose to represent America over England

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Yunus Musah will be a centerpiece for the US men’s national team when they face England in a critical World Cup group stage game on Friday. But he came close, very, very close, to playing for the other side.

In fact, if it weren’t for the pandemic, Musah, who spent his teenage years in London and representing England’s youth national teams, would probably have applied for the Three Lions.

“We talked about it a lot because there were feelings involved,” Musah’s older brother, Abdul, told ESPN. “Looking back, the situation was so unusual. But I remember picking up Yunus at the airport after he came back from his first time in the US and I said, ‘How was he?’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going anywhere else.'”

That conclusion seems simple enough, but reaching it was quite difficult. Musah’s initial time with the US came in November 2020, a match window that would normally have hosted World Cup qualifiers, but only consisted of friendlies due to global travel chaos amid the pandemic. This turned out to be a key development for Musah because, as a rule, a player with multi-nation eligibility commits to a country once he plays in a high-level official game for that country. Friendlies don’t count.

So if there had been regularly scheduled qualifiers instead of exhibitions, Musah, who was born in New York City to Ghanaian parents (his mother was on vacation at the time) and raised in Italy and England, would likely have turned down the American Invitation. to the camp. “I don’t think he would have left if he knew going would have made the decision,” Abdul said, adding that he and Musah were “very honest” with England FA officials about Musah’s intentions.

“We talked about it at home. We had to be very grateful to them,” Abdul said, referring to his brother playing more than 30 games for England at youth level. “But ultimately the decision comes down to: Can you pick them because of what they’ve done?”

“Obviously they tried to talk us into staying. Some may argue they could have done more. But Yunus wanted to try.”

Musah’s connection to the other young rising stars on Team USA was immediate. Obviously, playing time and a more central place within a team are always factors, but despite the family’s connection to London, Abdul said he could sense his brother’s passion for the US immediately after those early displays against Wales and Panama.

The US initially made contact with Musah through Nico Estevez, a US assistant who had connections at Musah’s club, Valencia of Spain’s LaLiga. Musah’s conversations with US coach Gregg Berhalter were certainly positive, but it was the atmosphere he felt among the players in camp that really intrigued him.

“It was like we had met or met before,” Musah told ESPN after finalizing his decision. “And that helps me because I’m new and they welcomed me very well. In the end, we played two very good games and we also had fun.”

Although he is less well known among casual American fans than Christian Pulisic, for example, Musah, who will turn 20 on November 29, the day the United States faces Iran in their final group game. He has been chosen by many ‘watchers’ to be the next American superstar.

His midfield presence and ability to move the ball forward in dangerous positions can be game-changing, while his personality (unofficially he has the biggest smile on Team USA) is relentlessly optimistic.

Abdul says that his brother has always been like this, adding that his entire family was raised to be humble and grateful for what they have. In fact, when Musah was considering which English academy team to join, he was about to sign with Chelsea, but joined Arsenal at the last minute because they were closer to his home in east London. . “The moment I walked in, I felt at home,” Abdul said.

With Ghanaian, English, Italian and American roots, Musah’s entire life feels like a unique mix. The only Muslim on the US team has been well aware of the differences that come with being in Qatar (the call to prayer can often be heard during US training), but the truth is that his Daily routine has always been a mix of cultures.

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At home in Spain, Musah and Abdul, who lives with him, speak several languages, sometimes speaking Italian, but then switching to English if they are talking, for example, about the Premier League. They love Ghanaian food, such as jollof rice, but they are also very particular about making pasta in the northern Italian style, since they lived there until Musah was nine years old. His humor may be more British, Abdul argued, while Musah’s musical and entertainment tastes are American. If he catches a cold, they turn to Ghanaian herbal remedies.

For Musah, the comfort he feels in being all of those things is never an issue when he’s with his fellow Americans. He can express himself, both as a person and as a player. And that ability inspires him with a happiness that makes his entire family grateful.

“From that first time, he felt like he belonged there,” Abdul said. “England was amazing for him. But he’s very proud to represent the USA. It’s where he wants to be,” he said.

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