Developing players like Jamal Musiala: Encouraging our players to stay on the ball

Developing players like Jamal Musiala: Encouraging our players to stay on the ball

Jamal Musiala took the World Cup by storm. Despite a quite disappointing Germany display at the Qatar based tournament, being knocked out at the Group Stages, Musiala was a shining light in their team. Despite only making his senior debut for Germany in March 2021 aged 18, Musiala has gone on to make 20 first team international appearances, becoming a mainstay in this German side. But what qualities does Jamal bring to this team, that makes him so influential? We looked at his data from the tournament as well as conversations with Tom Curtis, National Pathway Coach and YDP Lead at the FA to find out more about Jamal’s experiences at youth level to the main stage of the World Cup.

We identified the top 10 players at the World Cup that attempted take ons per 90. Out of all the players that played more than 180 minutes (2 games) at the tournament, Jamal Musiala attempted the most take ons. A take on is an attempt by a player to beat an opponent when they have possession of the ball. A successful dribble means the player beats the defender while retaining possession, unsuccessful ones are where the dribbler is tackled. In Musiala, he attempted 13 take ons per 90, which was 3 per 90 more than the next closest player in Tojan Buchanan from Canada. Musiala attempted 36 take ons in his 259 minutes on the pitch, completing 19 of these (53%). Across the whole tournament, only Kylian Mbappe (56 take ons) and Lionel Messi (40 take ons) attempted more. However, we have to remember that both of these players played seven games compared to Jamal’s three.

Musiala had on average 71 touches per 90 across whole pitch during the tournament. This was the 2nd highest for an attacking midfielder. 18 of these 71 touches (25%) occurred in the attacking 3rd. Again, this was the 2nd highest for an attacking midfielder. He also had the 3rd highest touches in opposition box for an attacking wide player (2.43 per 90). This insight demonstrates how influential Musiala is at getting on the ball in attacking areas, to create goalscoring opportunities.

Musiala carried the ball 378 metres per 90, the highest at the tournament for an attacking midfielder, and also the 5th highest at the tournament for any player. He attempted 52 carries per 90, the highest for an attacking midfielder. And as already mentioned above, he attempted 12.5 take ons per 90, the highest across the whole tournament, completing 53% of these, the 5th highest for any player with 10 or more take ons during the competition.

During Germany’s group stage games, Jamal was often employed as a left attacking midfielder. Therefore, you would expect that his take on attempts would have occurred solely on the left-hand side of the pitch. The pitch map below demonstrates however, the spread across the attacking half of the pitch in which Jamal would stay on the ball to take players on. 

But how did Jamal develop the skillset to be able to stay on the ball? Throughout Jamal’s grassroots and academy journey, he always played a year up. What opportunities would this have afforded him within his development?

Jamal joined his first local grassroots team in Germany aged 5 and played with the age group older than him. Once he moved to England, a similar pattern occurred. Musiala was first called up to the England pathway at 13 years old to play with the U15s. He made his U18 Chelsea debut aged just 15. He made his Bayern Munich debut in June 2020 at 17, the youngest ever Bayern Munich debut. He got his first England U21 start at 17 and got his first cap for the Germany senior team aged 18.

We can assume that with Jamal playing up a year or sometimes even two/three years, there will have been some physical imbalance with playing with players older than him. What Jamal will have lacked in physicality; he will have had to more than make up for in technical ability.

To understand more about Jamal’s development, we spoke to Tom Curtis, National Pathway Coach and YDP Lead at the FA to find out more about Jamal’s path to success. “At 13, Jamal was very small. He was physically a late developer. We had to play him in the 9 role at U15’s because he was good at linking the play one or two touch. He was not a standout dribbler at this stage. He was able to stay on the ball to provoke and entice, but not physically capable to take a player on. In the U17’s, he was playing more in the 8/10 role. He was dribbling more and was able to commit players. He could receive under pressure in the pocket and manipulate the ball, to drive and slide in a teammate.”

So, what can we do to encourage our young players to want to stay on the ball to develop?

  • Give your players more opportunities to play at the heart of the game more often to help their development. 
  • Focus on receiving skills “before – during – after” linked to intentions to penetrate or entice defenders. Place more value on the reasons and implications for positioning to receive the ball. How can you disrupt or gain an advantage over your opponents? ​
  • Prioritise players ‘thinking ahead’, plotting/scheming to anticipate or shape the play