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USA and Valencia’s Yunus Musah: ‘I wasn’t shocked by the racist abuse of Vinícius Jr’ | USA

USA and Valencia’s Yunus Musah: ‘I wasn’t shocked by the racist abuse of Vinícius Jr’ | USA

In the two years and three months since Yunus Musah elected to play for the US men’s national team over England, Italy and Ghana, he has become so integral to the American squad that it’s easy to forget he is still just 20.

After choosing to play for the US, Musah was immediately thrown into the fray of World Cup qualifying, starting for a team pursuing redemption after failing to reach Russia 2018. One year after committing to the US, Musah celebrated on a pitch in Costa Rica as he and his teammates secured their return to the World Cup.

Looking back on the journey, Musah says the highlight has been growing with the team – and not just qualifying for the World Cup, but reaching the knockout stages from a tough group that also included England, Wales and Iran.

The US fell to the Netherlands in the last 16 but Musah is proud of how he and his teammates performed. He combined well with Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie in a scoreless draw against England, the country where he spent large parts of his childhood and played for Arsenal’s academy.

“​​I knew [the England] game was vital,” he says. “I have so many people that know me in England and to showcase myself and not really make an embarrassment, I had to not give them anything bad to talk about. I’m so happy that game went so well. Because if it didn’t, then they would have talked a lot of stuff about it.”

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There was more success on Sunday, when Musah helped the US to a second successive Concacaf Nations League title with victory over Canada in the final. The past year at club level has been more challenging though. And not just on the pitch, where he was part of a Valencia team that narrowly avoided relegation from La Liga.

He admits the relegation pressure negatively affected his game.

“I felt like it was really hard to deal with the one [type of pressure] at the club because relegation would affect the club long term,” he says. “So I really wanted to avoid that. On the pitch, a lot of the time those insecurities, nerves, maybe sometimes I became a bit uncomfortable to play because of what was at stake. It was definitely a challenging season, but so happy that in the end, we managed to stay in La Liga.”

Musah says the pressure reached boiling point shortly after the World Cup, when Valencia lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

“After that the fans were really angry. They didn’t let us get out of the stadium that night … it was unsafe for us to get out. And then my brother came to pick me up in my car. He went to take it from the garage, and then met me at the front gate at the stadium,” says Musah. “And when I went, I quickly had to run inside the car because there was some fans running at me. When I got in the car, they started throwing things at the car and everything.”

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Asked if he had feared for his safety, Musah says he wanted fans to realize his humanity.

“I really just wanted to avoid it,” he says. “It was an unpleasant encounter. Because you know, we’re people as well. And they were really angry. They were throwing things at my car and trying to shake it, bang the window and everything like that. That’s just not nice.”

Yunus Musah’s Valencia narrowly avoided relegation in the last few months. Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Musah notes that the crowd got behind the team again as the end of the season loomed and results turned in Valencia’s favor.

“Things turned around at the end of the season, the fans were really a good factor again,” he says. “Because they were really behind us actually supporting us at the end of the season. So that was really nice.”

Sections of Valencia’s fanbase disgraced themselves at the end of May though. They racially abused Real Madrid’s Brazilian winger, Vinícius Júnior, when Valencia hosted the La Liga giants. Musah was in the stadium that day, and has already spoken out in Vinícius’s defense, saying to fans: “If you’re racist to him, you’re racist to me”.

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Musah still recalls the events of that day.

“I was quite far away from where the incident started, because it was a group of fans next to him, behind our goal,” he says. “But what I didn’t recognize obviously was … where the whole stadium was really chanting against him. While they didn’t, not everyone knew what was going on. So that was quite sad to see, the stadium being at its loudest to chant against someone that was being racially abused. The stadium was as loud as I’ve ever heard, you know, and that was like, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for Vinícius.”

Musah says, sadly, the racial abuse did not shock him.

“Honestly, I wasn’t shocked, because I’ve seen a lot of that stuff happen a lot before,” he says. “Not in our stadium, but around La Liga. So I wasn’t really surprised. Which is sad, because, it’s just really shouldn’t be normal. It shouldn’t be normal.”

He adds: “There has to be much more done to protect players from this and express how intolerable it is and there’s serious consequences for it.”

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Musah says being around his US teammates has been a restorative experience.

“I haven’t been thinking about [events at Valencia] at all since I’ve been in camp because it’s such a different vibe here,” Musah says. “And like it’s, it’s a completely different competition. It’s a different team. I feel like it did some good for me to come here with the national team and prepare for Nations League and everything with the guys, because I haven’t even thought about the last part of the season with Valencia while I was here.”

That fresh start was evident as Musah dominated the midfield in the US victories over Mexico and Canada. We’ve seen once again what the young midfielder can do when given the confidence to perform.

Megan Swanick

Published: 2023-06-20 09:00:36

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