One of the most popular photographs in the German sports media over the past year shows Jude Bellingham seated next to Jamal Musiala, who was 17 at the time and wearing an England shirt. The film highlights the friendship between two gifted players who once played against each other at ping-pong tables and video game consoles and have now become dominant in the German Bundesliga. While Bellingham already made his first appearance for England on Monday, his good friend is determined to do the same on Wednesday when Germany faces Japan in Group E of the World Cup.

“I think we have a really good team that we can achieve a lot with,” Musiala told Sportzshala. “Quality should be a title contender. We go to this tournament with the idea that we can win the cup. You must believe in it. I believe”.

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The 19-year-old went to Qatar with huge ambitions, and the outcome of Germany’s fight for the world title depends on Musiala more than some people realize. In the first half of the season, he was a standout for Bayern Munich, where head coach Julian Nagelsmann began to build an entire system around Musiala as his number 10.

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Germany head coach Hansi Flick, who mentored the promising talent during his time at Bayern Munich and wanted him to choose Germany over England (where Musiala played for the Chelsea academy from 2011 to 2019), also named his former student the best coach. the centerpiece of his attacking structure and Musiala provides an element of unpredictability due to his dribbling skills.

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“Musiala is a prime example of what we like to call a “needle player” – a player who carries the ball through small gaps and tight spaces between several opponents. His technique, but especially his agility and quickness of decision, let him do it like not many others,” says tactical analyst and coach Martin Rafelt.

Musiala may very well be the most gifted pocket footballer in the world along with Barcelona and Spain midfielder Pedri. The clash between the two heavyweights on Sunday could be epic. But while Pedri is widely admired in Spain, Musial is still underestimated in some fan circles at home. One reporter recently noted that counter-pressing and intensity have dominated German football in the last decade, and that a skinny teenager with light legs is contrary to the belief system.

“A style of play like Musiala is often considered too risky, but it is extremely valuable to break a compact defense, especially to do it quickly and often without requiring much patience,” Rafelt explains. For decades, the style of German football has revolved around passing. World Cup winning teams in 1974, 1990 and 2014 relied heavily on accurate and smart passes, while dribbling was much less noticeable. Musiala embodies a more provocative style as he deliberately moves into heavily covered areas and takes on one or even two opponents.

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“I think I play more aggressively than last season, when I was often used as a sixth number, and I had to learn it first,” says Musiala. “Now I have found a position where I feel really comfortable. I also like my rhythm and play it from game to game.”

What helps Musiale besides his pure football skills is how he handles psychological pressure. A close relationship with his mother, who raised him and his younger sister alone, and the fact that he shows little to no interest in luxury helps him focus on his game.

“During my time as a reporter, I have met few such down-to-earth players, which, in my opinion, is due not only to the fact that he has not been involved in this game of millionaires for a long time, but also to the fact that his character and mindset,” says the Munich journalist Kerry Howe, who has been following Musiala since he joined Bayern in 2019. Howe also attributes Musiala’s modesty in part to his upbringing in England, where academies can be a bit harsh for young prospects. “He’s a guy who didn’t give him anything and had to work hard for everything.”

Being driven and focused in his profession, he understands the game faster and approaches it more maturely than most 19 year olds, even at the highest level. “I always try to work on myself,” explains Musiala. “For example, my goal in front of the goal was already good. However, I worked hard on it to be as efficient as possible, mainly with [Bayern’s] assistant coach Dino Topmöller after training. Now I am even more often in positions from which I can shoot. We train exactly those situations that I also have during the game. The goals I’m scoring now, I’ve already scored in training.”

Musiala’s ability not only to create scoring opportunities for others through dribbling, but his drive to score himself could be crucial for Germany during the World Cup, as the four-time champions don’t have a top-notch striker.

“Since the summer, he has outgrown the status of a potential client, which can be judged by the way he communicates with journalists,” says Howe. “He became much more relaxed and not so shy anymore. Now he is a man who has no problem keeping up physically and with demands to start every three days.”

It may worry some that Flick has to rely on a 19-year-old currently in his second full season at senior level, but Musiala is undeniably a generational talent with unparalleled qualities. “He shares a common playing style with Mario Gotze and, to a lesser extent, Kai Havertz, Leroy Sane and Julian Brandt, but he can do it with more aim than Gotze and needs even less space than the other three.” . Rafelt says.

Mario Götze was Germany’s golden boy a decade ago but fell out of favor a few years after his World Cup winning goal in 2014. With a resurgence in the Bundesliga following a move to Frankfurt am Main this summer, Flick gave Gotze a fresh start. choosing him for the World Cup squad. The similarity on the pitch between Gotze and Musiala is an advantage for both, as Gotze can serve as a backup for a starting playmaker and Musiala can benefit from Gotze’s experience.

A figure similar to Musiala’s mentor is Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, who is quoted as telling Musiala during games that he would defend the areas behind him because Gundogan wants his young teammate to prosper. Veterans who participated in the 2018 World Cup campaign that ended with a group stage elimination know that Musiala brings something that no one else can.

His unpredictability is exactly what Germany might need, especially in games where long-term possession goes nowhere. Of course, it’s not easy for a 19-year-old to become an important factor for a nation like Germany, but Musiala has the tools to deal with it.