“Unbelievable” is the word that one of Jamal Musiala’s former coaches continually uses to describe the 18-year-old, who is fast developing into one of Europe’s most exciting talents.
The attacking midfielder is currently thriving in his breakthrough season, scoring five goals in 29 appearances for Bayern Munich and making his senior debut for the German national team in March.
At just 17, he became Bayern’s youngest ever Champions League goalscorer earlier this season and looks very much at home playing alongside world-class talent such as Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller.
On Saturday, he scored with a wonderful effort in his side’s 1-1 draw with Union Berlin to remind the world of his efficiency in front of goal.
But despite tearing up the record books since joining Bayern in 2019, it was in the UK that Musiala’s football education was accelerated.
Having moved away from Germany as a youngster, Musiala came through the academy at Chelsea whilst attending Whitgift — an independent school in South London that has a history of helping develop players that have gone on to become outstanding professionals, notably England international Callum Hudson-Odoi and former Nigeria international Victor Moses.
“I’m not saying we have a trained eye, but you can see just by the way they hold themselves, the way they apply themselves, their enthusiasm. Obviously, the skill level is way beyond,” Andrew Martin, Whitgift’s director of football, told CNN Sport.
“I think from the outset, Jamal was always marked out for greatness. Jamal just stood out, his goalscoring was phenomenal.”
Musiala has stayed in contact with Martin and the Bayern wonderkid still calls his former teacher “Sir.”
“He’s hugely respectful of those around him but he has a steely determination and confidence and self-belief within himself, which is not arrogance. Far from it,” Martin said.
“I think that’s probably why he’s doing so well at the moment, he’s respectful of those around him. He’s obviously respectful of the world-class players he’s playing with at Bayern Munich and learning from them.
“But also, inside, I know Jamal will believe in himself and will believe he’s as good as them and I think obviously he’s showing that at the moment.
“When he goes onto the pitch, he doesn’t turn into a raging monster, but he goes from a quiet, respectful lad to a world-class athlete.”
Martin still remembers the first time he saw Musiala play, when he was aged around 10 or 11. Unfortunately for Whitgift’s director of football, it was for an opposing team.
“I think that we got absolutely whacked 8-4 by this school that came from nowhere, not really being heard of,” he laughed.
“Jamal played that day and I think he scored five out of the eight. So I remember him. He was kind of a wiry little character but then as soon as the game kicked off, he was electric. Absolutely unbelievable.”
Seven goals in one game
In less than a year, Martin saw that Musiala, who was already on Chelsea’s books, had applied to join the school and was pleased to see him playing in a Whitgift kit.
Without having any official links, the school has built a reputation and relationship with many local professional clubs — 27 current pupils are part of football academies around London.
In addition to providing youngsters with elite coaching, Martin and his team also act as a liaison to help those boys balance their time between academic pursuits and football academy duties.
He took responsibility for managing Musiala’s schedule during his time at Whitgift and certainly reaped the benefits.
According to Martin, Musiala went on to score 122 goals in 36 matches during his three years at Whitgift.
Two matches in particular still stand out to this day. The first was during an away game which involved hours traveling in a minibus to play a rival team.
The match was called off shortly into the second half with Whitgift 10-0 up. Musiala had scored seven and, according to Martin, had practically won the game with his first three touches of the ball.
But whilst his attacking prowess was obvious to see, his maturity and determination also shone through.
Martin remembers another match when a young Musiala was “kicked pillar to post” by the opposition. After an encouraging word in his ear at halftime, Musiala went out and won the game with two goals.
“That just summed him up,” Martin added. “His attitude and application was unbelievable … his drive and desire.
“He would be upset if he came off and hadn’t scored the chances he’d been given. His standards were so high. It was unbelievable.”
Although Whitgift is proud of its success stories, the school caters to all abilities. It currently runs 21 teams of varying levels across the years with over 400 boys playing. But no matter how good a player is, academic work always come first.
That’s partially because Martin, who played professionally himself, is fully aware that only a small percentage of players will ever make a career in the game.
“There’s nothing wrong with those boys dreaming and wanting to be the next Callum and Jamal and using them as a yardstick,” said Martin. “That’s helping to develop and improve them at their own rate.
“I think that’s the beauty of our school, that we can help the boys who could be the next Callum and Jamal, but on the other end of the scale, we can also help and improve those boys who have aspirations to be it, but unfortunately it will only ever be a dream.
“Listen, let them live their dream and let them enjoy it and progress at their own rate.”
Martin remains reluctant to use players such as Musiala to motivate the current crop but remains inherently proud of helping his former pupil reach the very top.
“To see his rise in six years is, yes, pride. Immense pride, I suppose,” he said, beaming at the memory of watching Musiala make his international debut.
“It’ll sound corny but it’d be like seeing my own son going on and representing Bayern Munich and Germany. It really is.”
Trophies are now on the agenda for Musiala. Bayern are seven points clear as it seeks to claim yet another Bundesliga title, but faces a tougher test in the Champions League quarterfinal.
Musiala was an unused substitute in his side’s 3-2 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, but he might well be called upon for the second leg on Tuesday as Bayern look to overturn the deficit in the French capital.