Berlin (AFP) – He only turned 19 in February, but Jamal Musiala is proving to be the versatile teenage jewel in Bayern Munich’s midfield who turned down Chelsea in favour of a return to his native Germany.
When Bayern face Villarreal away in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie Wednesday, Musiala could be deployed either as an attacking or defensive midfielder.
“He can enrich any team – including Bayern Munich and the national team,” said Germany head coach Hansi Flick.
“He knows how to assert himself, creates space, is very good in one-on-ones and can dribble at speed.”
Musiala broke into Bayern’s first team last season as an attacking midfielder with an eye for a defence-splitting pass.
He was born in Stuttgart, but moved with his family to England as a child and rose through Chelsea’s academy before joining Bayern in 2019.
Despite playing for England Under-21s in 2020, he opted to play senior football for Germany.
His full debut for the four-time world champions followed in March 2021.
Last September, Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus said Musiala can become “a second Neymar”, after the teenager dazzled with a goal and assist off the bench as Bayern hammered RB Leipzig.
– Nicknamed ‘Bambi’ –
The lanky teen has been dubbed “Bambi” by team-mates, but he’s shown a more combative side since switching to a deeper role for both Bayern and Germany in recent weeks.
“He pinched a lot of balls,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann said after Musiala came on to help Bayern to a 4-1 win at Freiburg on Saturday.
“They call him ‘Bambi’, but he has good aggressiveness.”
Nagelsmann revealed that Musiala “thought I was joking” when suggesting before Christmas that he try playing in a more defensive position.
It has turned out to be an inspired move with Musiala slotting in when a hip injury sidelined Leon Goretzka for four months.
Flick started Musiala as an attacking midfielder in Germany’s 2-0 friendly win over Israel, then dropped him back down the pitch, where he stayed for last week’s 1-1 draw with the Netherlands.
Musiala is humble enough to know he has much to learn from both Flick and Nagelsmann.
“In the number six role, I have to be a bit more clever with more discipline,” said Musiala.
“I’ve done well recently, but I still have much to improve on.”
Musiala got stuck into the central midfield battle in Amsterdam against an experienced Oranje side and held his own against Barcelona star Memphis Depay.
“He can keep hold of the ball in the tightest of spaces,” said Ilkay Gundogan, who partnered Musiala against the Dutch.
“Although he looks lanky, he is so intelligent to always use his body in the right way.”
– ‘Ball magnet’ –
For Bayern, Nagelsmann rates Musiala as the first choice to operate just behind Robert Lewandowski whenever Thomas Mueller is unavailable.
Yet the Bayern boss sees Musiala as the perfect hybrid midfielder, a “ball magnet with technical skills only a few have” in defence or attack.
Nagelsmann says Musiala must still go through a “maturing process” and can still be “a bit too playful” with the ball.
He hinted Musiala could start at Villarreal with Goretzka, who scored at Freiburg on Saturday, only just back after a long spell out.
“There are no guarantees he (Musiala) will play, but Leon can’t play every three days,” said Nagelsmann, “so I am happy we have the alternative and that we can switch.”
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