When the time came for Yunus Musah to take the next step in his career, the USMNT international was not short of admirers. West Ham had identified him as one of the midfielders they might sign to succeed Declan Rice while Fulham were also linked with a move. Chelsea had attempted to sign Musah in the previous window. Those were just the options in England.
This was a pivotal move for the 20-year-old, who had to find a club where he could both be afforded regular game time and stretch himself out of his comfort zone. Ultimately the decision was relatively simple for Musah, who finds himself wearing the colors of AC Milan, "because of the history, because of where they are right now." Speaking to CBS Sports ahead of his side's Champions League group stage match against Borussia Dortmund (you can catch all the Champions League action on Paramount+).
"It was definitely the best option. For me, I was at that point where I felt like I needed to challenge myself at that highest level. Coming here is that challenge."
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Certainly, he has not found that minutes are simply given to him by dint of his $22 million transfer fee. Though Musah has featured in six of the seven Serie A games for which he has been eligible this season, he has been limited to just one start, in the 1-0 win over Hellas Verona last month. Such is the challenge when Stefano Pioli can choose from such deep reserves in central areas. Even with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Rade Krunic and Ismael Bennacer due to miss Wednesday's trip to the Westfalenstadion, the likes of Yacine Adli, Tijjani Reijnders and Musah can still step into the XI.
For now, Musah has a fight on his hands to establish himself as a regular when Milan are at full strength. Then again that is precisely why he made the switch. He need not fear that his manager has questions over his talent either, following an impressive display off the bench against Cagliari last week Pioli hailed him as "a complete player." Given that the 57 year old has coached the likes of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Lucas Paqueta and Marcelo Brozovic, such praise counts for a great deal indeed.
"It means a lot," says Musah. "For him to describe me as a complete player gives me a lot of hope and confidence. That means that I can go on to achieve a lot of things and do really well with Milan.
"I knew that coming here it wouldn't be easy to play, [there are] so many top players and a high level is demanded of you. You have to be on it all the time. It's definitely a challenge to be competing against these top guys but at the same time, I know I'm going to learn so much here."
In years gone by, Milanello was something of a graduate school of midfielders, a melting pot of those who had long since proven themselves to be the best of the best in their field. RedBird's Milan has more of an upstart feel to it. Success in Rossoneri still necessitates the winning of trophies, but this is being done with players whose peaks are some way off. Loftus-Cheek was the only outfield player over the age of 25 signed in a summer where the $83.8 million they received from Newcastle for Sandro Tonali was splashed on young talent from Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and England.
This youthful squad are "taking things from each other," with Musah inspired to add new aspects to his game from the talent of those around him. He particularly notes the strides he has made in his positioning when his team are on the attack, making sure that he is in place to cover should the opponent transition. Then, in defense, Pioli has been encouraging the young midfielder to better read what the situation demands of him when the attacks are coming down his flank. "Sometimes I could leave my man and go help my full back in a two vs. one. If my man isn't in a threatening position, I can be the one who helps win the ball back."
He adds: "Coming here, I realized I need to improve even more. The details I'm learning here are really helping improve my games. I didn't even know those details existed. Coming here has opened my eyes to new things in football. Straight away I knew these things would help me get better."
He is not the only American who has swiftly settled in Italy. Indeed, one might argue that Musah is able to develop away from the spotlight because it shines so brightly on Christian Pulisic, the talisman of the USMNT who arrived at the San Siro a few weeks earlier in the summer. The former Chelsea forward has found a regular starting spot altogether more swiftly, little wonder when his first seven Serie A appearances have delivered three goals and an assist.
A run of games and consistent output are a far cry from the themes of Pulisic's time at Chelsea, four years where he flashed talent but was held back by inconsistent selection, coaching changes, off field turbulence and his own chequered injury record. The frustrated figure of that final year at Stamford Bridge is long gone.
"Seeing him on the field day in, day out, he always impresses me," Musah notes. "I'm seeing him do what he does with the national team every week. All I know is that here he's definitely having fun. The manager has a lot of belief in him and so does the team. Everyone's happy with him and he's happy with the situation."
Milan's youthful midfield are set against the force of a Borussia Dortmund side who are all the more dangerous with the Yellow Wall behind them. Still to come are trips to the Parc des Princes and St. James' Park for a team who will aspire to escape from the Champions League's group of death. All of it soundtracked by that siren call of an anthem, one which has played in the dreams of so many like Musah.
"It was unreal hearing it, hearing the fans singing it in the ground. It felt like a big moment in my career, just the song. I'm here now. I'm playing Champions League. It was a moment that still has to sink in.
"Being able to go around Europe, playing in these top stadiums, it's going to be surreal. I hope I get to go to all these stadiums, experience these atmospheres. It's every kid's dream and I'm lucky enough to be living in it."