ESPN’s leading Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae on why “Musiala mania” has taken over not only in Bavaria, but throughout Germany. Are we looking at a one-off talent with the ability to carry the German game on his young shoulders?
Every week I start with a blank sheet, and do not know exactly what or who this column will focus on. But this week, it’s impossible not to do it all about Bayern Munich’s 18-year-old wonder, Jamal Musiala.
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Footballers may remain synonymous with jet-set lifestyles and luxury cars, yet Musiala’s first full season with Bayern – who hosted Bochum on Saturday (9:20 ET, stream live on ESPN +, USA only) -was much more in line with the experiences of high school students in many parts of the world.
His mother Carolin would arrive at the gates of Bavaria’s Sabener Strasse training facility in her Volkswagen Polo and hand over her football-mad son. Even after signing his first professional contract, this was the normal daily routine and the modest, modest Musiala made a point of thanking his mother for taking the time to do this for him every day.
Asked what car he could dream of driving once he had got his driver’s license, he simply said he would be happy to drive everything as long as it works and has a working stereo system. It was an answer that reflected the natural, easy-going figure Musiala cuts to the pitch. You can ‘t imagine him making a lot of noise. Life itself seems like a wonderful adventure to be thankful for.
His rise in the past year — from promising bit-substitute, to signing a contract until 2026, to commitment to Germany over England and now to being a true Bayern star as an 18-year-old has been meteoric. When he scored a superb goal as a late replacement in Bayern’s 8-0 win over Schalke to open the 2020-21 season, I raised my eyebrows and thought this was clearly a promising player, but wondered if he might end up with to become yet another young talent who would have to move elsewhere to get playing time.
I remember commenting to ESPN on Germany’s fights over the euro last summer and regularly thinking that national team needed to see more of Musiala there and then. In fact, in just a few minutes on the pitch, he helped the team cheat a draw against Hungary to push them through to the knockout stages.
Blink forward to Saturday and Bayern’s biggest test so far in Leipzig. When Musiala came on for the injured Serge Gnabry just before half-time, Bayern led thanks to an early Robert Lewandowski penalty, but Leipzig were very much in it. Musiala, however, immediately became, in Thomas Muller’s words, “the magician of the game.”
Twice in short order, Musiala was at the center of two keys “changing moments“(” Transition moments “). In 47 minutes, his classic left-footed finish gave Bayern breathing in the form of a 2-0 lead, and seven minutes later the young standout used his right to tip Leroy Sane to effectively put the match outside Leipzig’s range.
Afterwards, Muller made himself praised not only Musiala’s sorcery and his confidence on the pitch, but his down-to-earth character and penchant for hard work. The German TV talk shows in football on Sunday morning went strong on Musiala, and with good reason: Julian Nagelsmann simply had to play him from the start on Tuesday in the Champions League out to Barcelona – and he did.
While the discussion used to center on whether Musiala might have a chance to succeed Muller as the player to line up right in front, Musiala makes a case of being a regular starter out on the shore. The competition was already fierce, with Gnabry, Sane and Kingsley Coman vying for two starting places. The hectic schedule will mean that all four get their chances, but it is no exaggeration to say that Bayern without Musiala somehow looks incomplete.
When interviewed after games, Musiala wears a permanent smile as if to convey that nothing about this football business is a task. He is living the dream in Bavaria, after returning to Germany in 2019 after a spell in England in the Chelsea youth system. The move to England was down to his mother’s studies in Southampton as part of the Erasmus + program, which gives students and educators the chance to study and volunteer abroad.
At times, you can almost see Musiala searching for the right German word – perhaps the legacy of the years of English schooling – but he always finds it, just as it always seems natural to find the right passing angle on the pitch.
Many years ago, I had the privilege of commenting on some of Lionel Messi’s first matches for Barcelona, and one could see the joy of football and life on his face that matched his natural abilities. It’s too early to anoint Musiala the new Messi, but the similarities are there in the approach to the game, skill level, enthusiasm and humility.
With another 18-year-old German – Florian Wirtz from Bayer Leverkusen – also making huge strides, the Bundesliga is once again living up to its reputation as the league to be in if you want to play at a high level as a youngster. Germany may one day be spoiled for choice in the creative department again.