Twelve months ago, there was a decent chance that a sporting prodigy that had enjoyed coaching and schooling at Whitgift in South Croydon might play a part in the Euro2020 tournament, as Callum Hudson-Odoi was making progress as an attacking midfielder for Chelsea and England.
This afternoon, with England facing Germany at Wembley in the last 16 of the championship, the possibility of an old boy of the private school playing a decisive part in one of the fiercest international football rivalries remains – but now with Jamal Musiala a part of German coach Joachim Löw’s squad.
Jamal Musiala was born in Germany, came to England when seven years old, went to a state primary in New Malden, was signed up by the Chelsea academy and, like Hudson-Odoi, got himself a sporting scholarship among the peacocks and Colin Pateses of South Croydon.
Until late last year, Musiala was still regarded as one of the generation of brilliant young players emerging in England’s youth teams, alongside Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham.
Like the latter two Dortmund players, Musiala, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder, has been starting his professional career in Germany, where he has broken into the Bayern Munich first team this season.
Despite having represented England at under-15, U16s, U17s and U21s, with a German mother, Musiala opted to commit to Germany at senior international level.
So far, he has won four Germany caps, including coming on for the final 15 minutes of the group game against Hungary last week that secured the last-16 showdown today at Wembley.
England can hardly feel bitter, having persuaded Declan Rice and Jack Grealish to switch from Ireland. Musiala’s decision was not a foregone conclusion, either. Barely six months ago, the head of the German FA’s coaching academy was saying publicly, “He has clearly signalled to us that he sees his future with the English national teams.”
Which was when Musiala got a knock on the door of his Munich home. Joachim Löw had come calling.
As The Times reported earlier this year, “It’s a measure of Musiala’s talent that Löw personally went to such lengths. For another, it’s a measure of Germany’s desperation: Löw is said to have pledged that Musiala has a clear path to the attacking midfield spot in Die Mannschaft” – a situation far from guaranteed for the talented youngsters such as Bellingham, Sancho or even Hudson-Odoi.
Musiala did not feature on the bench in Germany’s first two games of Euro2020, so it is by no means certain that the Whitgift old boy will get to play against his former teammates and home country.
“England is like home for me,” Musiala said this week.
“I have a very special relationship with England. I was seven years old when I arrived there and I hardly understood a word.”
Musiala, who might have opted to play for Nigeria thanks to his father’s nationality, had moved with his family to Southampton when his mother spent a year studying at the university there.
He says that he never felt like an outsider in the culturally diverse neighbourhoods of England. “Even though I was different, a little boy with a mixed background and couldn’t speak the language, I didn’t feel that someone treated me differently.”
The offer of a place in the Chelsea academy delayed the family’s return to Germany, and Musiala set about his lessons, and mastering his second language at primary school. “I can remember very well that I got a sticker for every correct sentence I wrote. One of the first expressions I learnt was ‘well done’. They made me feel welcome.
“There is another language — the universal language of football, a language well spoken in England.”
Despite the appearance of being settled in south London, the uncertainties caused by Brexit saw Musiala’s family decide to leave Britain in 2019. Like many peripatetic professional footballers, Musiala was soon settling in with another club in another country: German champions Bayern.
Musiala’s participation in Euros so far has been brief, but decisive. It was his cross into the penalty area, seven minutes from time against Hungary in Munich last Wednesday, that led to German’s second equaliser and kept them in the tournament.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the support from England,” he said in this week’s interview. Though there will be few England supporters, or even old schoolmates, cheering him on if he gets a game at Wembley today.
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