He was an academy star at Arsenal and captain of England youth teams, but it was born during a family holiday in New York that paved the way for Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah to pursue his World Cup dream.
England manager Gareth Southgate suggested Musah’s future lies with the Three Lions. But the 19-year-old, who was also eligible to play for Ghana, opted for the USA.
He may meet one of his former academy team-mates at Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka on Friday when the USA take on England in their second Group B game in Qatar.
“I’m really both English and American,” Musah told BBC Sport. “I had a great time in England. I have loved every time, had many camps, amazing people and everything.
“It got to a point where I was playing in the first team [at Valencia] and played in the U19s when I went to the national team.
“Gregg (Berhalter, USA coach) called me and told me about the project with USA. He told me how much he wanted me on the team and I was only 17 at the time. Being a first-team coach wanted me helped a lot in my decision.
“Things happen in mysterious ways, I was born in the US for a reason. Now I play for the national team and I love it. I’ve had to make some big decisions in my career and they’ve paid off.”
England and USA drew 1-1 in their last game at a World Cup in South Africa 2010. Musah had a feeling they would meet again.
“What a special game it’s going to be,” he said. “Having lived in England, knowing what England is like as a society and people, just to share the pitch with them and knowing that all of England and the USA are going to see this game is just a special moment for me and I hope so goes well.
“It will be the biggest game of my career.
“I think I’ll be smiling more than usual. The memories of how things went, it’s crazy. Playing against England on the biggest stage, hopefully sharing the field with Bukayo as well, that’s going to be crazy.”
“I felt ready, Valencia gave me the opportunity”
Musah says playing with his older brothers is why he’s progressed so quickly. He signed for Arsenal just months after arriving in England but didn’t realize the importance of his achievement until he was recognized by his new school friends.
“I got there, settled down and went to school and then just joined the local team,” he said. “I was immediately scouted for Arsenal, it was crazy. I was just the happiest kid because it was great to play football, to go to school.
“I remember the day. I moved to England on January 12, 2012 and tried and signed for Arsenal during the Easter break, it went so quickly.”
“It was really overwhelming and I didn’t understand how important it was until I started school and then all of a sudden everyone was like, ‘Yo, this guy plays for Arsenal’ and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a big deal here you know you’. It was a big deal and I was happy about it.”
Things didn’t slow down for Musah, who played with Saka and Emile Smith Rowe and Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott on international duty.
He captained Arsenal’s youth teams and says they shaped him into the player he is today.
However, Musah did not stay in north London and pushed into the first team. He left the club after seven years and joined La Liga club Valencia in 2019.
“I was 16 at the time and I felt like I could make the step into the first team and I felt ready for it,” he said.
“I had a lot of confidence. Why still in the 18s, 23s? I want to play in the first team.
“A lot of people said it was too early to think that and I agree it can be too early and you have to be patient, but I just felt like I could do it.
“Valencia made me a great offer to come here, start with the B team, train with the first team and push myself into the first team when I deserve it. This opportunity to have a big team in Spain, caught my attention.
“My first season in the B team wasn’t actually that great. I played 17 games and most of them didn’t even start. Times were tough. This has shaped me to become stronger and better.
“The pre-season came and I just stayed here [in the first team]. I couldn’t get down. I just wanted to stay in the first team and work hard.”
“We want to change the way the world sees US football”
Musah was the first Englishman to play for Valencia and since joining he is also the first American to represent the club.
He’s one of many talented young Americans playing their club football in Europe and Musah says a team dubbed America’s ‘golden generation’ wants to send a message to the rest of the world.
“One of our goals as a group is to change the way the world sees American football,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity to do that at the World Cup.
“We’re so ambitious. We want to go all the way. We think game by game. If you take it that way, the next thing you know is that you’re further down the competition.
“I think we should do that, although I’ve never been to a World Cup before. Gregg has played in two World Cups – he’s a manager who knows and I trust him.”
The World Cup will be a culmination of the gambles Musah has taken throughout his career but he feels he made the right decisions.
“When I was making my decisions, both for Valencia and for the USA, I said: ‘Whatever happens, I will make the situation work for the best and I have no regrets,'” he said.
“If something goes wrong along the way, I shouldn’t think, ‘I wish I had done this or that,’ just keep going or make it work.
“Everything happens for a reason, so I don’t regret it at all. I was happy with what happened at Arsenal and England, but I don’t regret my decisions.”