Big numbers do not really seem to faze Yunus Musah.
He chose the number 80 shirt for AC Milan, has four passports and speaks five languages.
Last week, aged just 20, the Italian giants became his fourth club, but with a wide smile and arms aloft in the promotional pictures, he already looked comfortable in the famous red and black jersey.
There was only one place he wanted to be this summer. Several clubs, including Fulham and West Ham United, were interested in the midfielder, but his heart was set on San Siro — and he got his wish with a five-year deal after completing a €20million (£17.1m; $22.1m) transfer from Valencia.
Musah may not be the most high-profile new star-spangled Rossonero this summer — that tag goes to USMNT team-mate and ‘Captain America’ Christian Pulisic — but those behind the deal do not expect him to spend long in anyone’s shadow.
His arrival is the culmination of long-held interest, with Milan having made three offers for a player who had been a regular at Valencia for the past three years after joining from Arsenal in 2019.
Following a year in their B team, Musah made 108 appearances for Valencia’s first team over the past three seasons, scoring five goals. He also holds the record for the youngest non-Spanish player to score a goal for Valencia, at the age of just 17 years and 338 days in the 2020-21 season.
For Milan manager Stefano Pioli, that prodigious level of experience is a big part of Musah’s appeal. They had noted that players in his age range and position with similar top-flight minutes were Jude Bellingham and Barcelona pair Pedri and Gavi.
There is a sense at Milan that they have got a bargain, with Musah undervalued €20million by the market on the back of playing at a struggling Valencia who finished 16th last season. It was the second time in three seasons Valencia finished in the bottom half of the La Liga table.
Despite that, Musah largely shone over his three previous seasons at the Mestalla, even if he had a difficult second half of 2022-23 and dropped out of the plans of coach Ruben Baraja. But Milan prize his versatility — he has played across the midfield — and expect a higher level of performance from him in a team with better players.
They have also watched him flourish as a No 8 for the USMNT and that fits with Milan’s plan to move into a 4-3-3 shape this season, with Musah in a central midfield role. Long-term, Milan’s recruitment team also feel their new signing could evolve into a No 6, although that was not the basis on which he was signed.
In terms of his skill set, Milan believe they have signed a great player who is as adept as a ball carrier as he is at resisting the opposition press.
Last week, Musah featured in The Athletic’s series profiling 50 exciting players under the age of 25, in which Jeff Rueter noted how effective the USMNT midfielder was at progressing the ball for Valencia.
Jeff wrote: “Since taking on a more regular role in the 2021-22 season, Musah has been among the best midfielders in La Liga at pushing play forward: 26.4 per cent of all carries he’s made over the past two years have advanced the ball at least 10 yards, which is seventh among all midfielders with at least 1,000 minutes played. And 5.6 per cent of his touches have come in the opponent’s box — for comparison, Pedri checks in at 3.43 per cent. Despite starting his possession in the attacking third with 4.71 of every 100 touches, he finished his possession in the final third with 38.2 of every 100 touches.
“It’s second nature for Musah to work toward goal. For an underperforming side like Valencia, it led to many sequences of fruitless build-up going unrewarded.
“Making a move to Milan (where he projects to play regularly, even if he isn’t an immediate starter) will see him face a similarly high level of competition on a more talented team with greater expectations than the club he’s leaving.”
He is not the finished product yet. Milan are aware of his limitations in passing and note that he sometimes lacked the end product when played in a wide role at Valencia.
The Rossoneri have another new summer signing, Nigeria international Samuel Chukwueze, to do that and those close to him feel Musah can add more goals to his game, too.
“I’ve seen him just beat three guys and I think he has a mentality where he’s looking for the open guy,” international team-mate Kellyn Acosta said about Musah in Rueter’s article. “That’s just more like him. He’s just kind of a selfless dude, so he’s always looking to make the pass. But I hope that soon, he’ll be a little bit more selfish because I’ve seen him score some incredible goals in training. He definitely has the ability to do it.”
There are other reasons his signing made sense for the ambitious Milan club. One of their Instagram posts announcing the deal showed Musah’s name being printed on a shirt with the middle letters ‘USA’ laid out first.
As a club with American owners in Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird Capital, Pulisic already on board and a keen eye on commercial advances in that thriving market, this latest signing ticks boxes.
In a recent interview with Sportico, Milan chief executive Giorgio Furlani discussed the impact of Pulisic’s arrival and how it fits into the club’s strategy.
“We signed Christian because he is an amazing player and we needed a guy like him,” he said. “I think he will make a difference and that’s the main reason.
“Obviously, he is one of the best players for the USMNT and America has really noticed that we signed him. We have seen a bit of an explosion in the numbers from an e-commerce perspective and the number of jerseys sold in the USA — and 90 per cent of them since he joined are ‘Pulisic 11’. So it’s a really big effect and I think more will come.
“We are lucky to have him, most importantly because he is a great player — and he will help us in being more relevant in the U.S.”
However, Milan insist the decision to sign Musah was down to football reasons before anything else.
Of course, it helps that he does not take a precious non-EU player slot on their roster due to his multiple passports and speaks fluent Italian due to a childhood in Treviso. Musah has American, Ghanaian, Italian and English nationality, and his clean-cut lifestyle is another marketing plus.
But it is his potential as a dynamic attacking midfielder with plenty of room to get even better that got Milan excited. With Pioli’s side in the Champions League again next season following their fourth-placed Serie A finish in 2022-23, it will represent a chance for Musah to shine on the biggest club stage in Europe.
The young man who had the courage to choose the same number as Ronaldinho at the San Siro is backing himself to be a success by whatever metric you care to measure.
(Top photo: John Dorton/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)
Read the full article here