Jamal Musiala shines for Bayern with flashing feet, touch and tackles
An hour had gone at the Wanda Metropolitano when the 17-year-old kid with the Nigerian dad, German mum and English upbringing playing for Bayern Munich looked to the touchline where three men were preparing to come on and pointed at his chest, but his number was not up. It would be another 15 minutes before the board showed 42, finally bringing his first Champions League start to an end and, exhausted, Jamal Musiala headed towards the bench where Hansi Flick was waiting with a big smile and a bigger slap on the back.
“This was a very nice night,” the Bayern manager said; one in which his team were introduced to a new feeling while everybody else was introduced to a new generation. For the first time in 15 Champions League games Bayern had not won but there was only optimism, Flick declaring himself “very, very happy”. A late Thomas Müller penalty earned a 1-1 draw against Atlético Madrid, who have not been beaten here in a year, and they had done it with an unfamiliar team.
Unfamiliar to everyone else, at least. Unfamiliar for now. And while their appearances were partly circumstantial, a consequence of early qualification and a packed calendar, they’ll be back. These are the players whose task it may be to take on this team in the future and on this evidence they are well equipped to do so, particularly when it comes to Musiala, an England youth international. As Musiala departed, the former Real Madrid forward Álvaro Benito, commentating on Spanish television, said he had caused a “buenísima impresión”, two words that probably need no translation.
Already guaranteed top spot in the group, at the beginning of this game Bayern had no Manuel Neuer, Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Robert Lewandowski, Joshua Kimmich, Alphonso Davies, Müller, Jérôme Boateng or Kinglsey Coman. They did, though, have two 17-year-olds signed from Chelsea last year: Musiala and the full-back Bright Arrey-Mbi.
Arrey-Mbi, Germany-born with Cameroonian heritage, played for England’s Under-15s before shifting to Germany at Under-16 level. Musiala was born north of Frankfurt, moving with his family to England aged eight. He played at Southampton and Chelsea and, despite returning to Germany in 2019 and being eligible for Nigeria, has chosen to continue playing for England. Educated in Croydon at the same school as Callum Hudson-Odoi, wherewith his former teacher describing him as a “quiet kid” who still calls him “sir”, last month he made his debut for the under-21s at Molineux. In his second game against Albania in the same ground, he scored.
Their presence here posed additional questions on the day in which football’s future post-Brexit started to become clearer with confirmation English clubs will be unable to bring in foreign players under the age of 18 and limited signings after that. What it means when seen from the other side remains to be resolved. Doors in Britain close; doors out of Britain may well close too, 27 countries shut and opportunities there denied, including for footballers.
Will young English players be able to follow the example of Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund or Yunus Musah at Valencia, or of these two teenagers lining up for Bayern? And what impact may that have on the England team?
Musiala’s impact here was significant, suggesting a fine future with the national team. If this was largely Bayern’s B team, it was not Atlético’s and, alongside Javi Martínez, Musiala did not appear out of place; in fact, he was outstanding. That was no surprise to the manager or his teammates, Flick insisting: “The other players already had a high opinion of him.” As for Martínez, he joked: “They were born in 2003; that’s pretty much when I was making my debut in the first division. But this club works well with youth players: the future is bright.”
Musiala, the youngest player to play a league game for Bayern aged 17 years 115 days, became their youngest goalscorer 90 days later. And yet he had made only one appearance in Europe, as a 91st-minute substitute, and this, Flick admitted, was a step again: “A first game at this level and in this stadium.” For many watching, it was an introduction too.
He quickly caught the eye here. Tall and slim, if probably not for much longer at Bayern, there was a confidence and smoothness to the way he moved, slipping into space between the lines, sleeves pulled up slightly to reveal skinny wrists. His was the pass and then the lovely dummy from which Leroy Sané wasted an early opportunity, sending the ball high into the stands. His too were the feet flashing, accelerating without appearing to, and going past Mario Hermoso to shoot just past the near post.
One of two central midfielders but mobile, every touch was assured, every decision the right one. He competed 92% of his passes, but not because he limited himself to the easiest option, risk-free. The tackles he made were vital ones, too: long runs and well-timed interventions to make vital stops on Yannick Carrasco, Kieran Trippier and Marcos Llorente. And there was no effort spared; when he finally went, he was empty.
“We have to be cautious; we can’t forget he’s 17,” Flick said. “He still has a lot to improve but he has quality, control, he is good one on one, hard to get off the ball and we can all be very happy with him.”