Yunus Musah on the 'big' call from Gregg Berhalter that lured him to the USMNT, leaving Arsenal for Valencia at 16... and why AC Milan players are making a stand after Mike Maignan's racism ordeal: 'If something like this happens again, we're not playing'

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By walking off the field in solidarity with their distressed colleague, AC Milan stars sent a powerful message across the sporting world when Mike Maignan recently became the latest European soccer player to suffer racist abuse from the stands.

Maignan, incensed by the vile vitriol slung his way, twice had to be persuaded to return and battle through the adversity alongside his teammates at Udinese, whose supporters had brought the contest to a brief halt with their chant.

In the end, it was the visitors who had the last laugh. Two goals in the final 20 minutes earned Milan the most satisfying of 3-2 victories, a triumph for Maignan which transcended three points and any race for the league title.

Though for Yunus Musah, any similar incidents will be dealt with much more abruptly in the future.

'It's quite simple and self-explanatory,' the USMNT midfielder tells Dailymail.com after helping launch Milan's 'All the Colors of Sport' initiative to tackle racism and inclusivity. 'If something like this happens again, we're not playing.'

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan was subjected to racist abuse vs Udinese last month

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan was subjected to racist abuse vs Udinese last month

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan was subjected to racist abuse vs Udinese last month

Maignan's Milan teammates left the field with him twice before eventually resuming the game

Maignan's Milan teammates left the field with him twice before eventually resuming the game

For Yunus Musah, any similar incidents in the future will be met with a more abrupt response

For Yunus Musah, any similar incidents in the future will be met with a more abrupt response

Musah was speaking to Dailymail.com after launching Milan's 'All the Colors of Sport' initiative

Musah was speaking to Dailymail.com after launching Milan's 'All the Colors of Sport' initiative

While he only entered the game as a late substitute to run down the clock in stoppage time, Musah - a 33-cap USA international - was in the thick of some difficult conversations with Maignan as he initially proved reluctant to take to the field again.

'He didn't feel like he could carry on, but the solidarity and the understanding that the team showed him, that we're all going to be out there together and he wasn't going to be alone, that made him feel even stronger,' he continues.

'So he felt like he could go back out there as the whole team was behind him and he wasn't alone.'

Such abuse from the crowd is nothing new in Italian soccer, nor European soccer for that matter. Real Madrid star Vinicius Jr has been subjected to discriminatory chants on frequent occasions in Spain's LaLiga. Romelu Lukaku was targeted by racists when playing for Inter Milan against Juventus in April of last year.

Yet in calling for a game to be put on hold and then leaving the field - even if only briefly - Maignan has set a new precedent and opened the door for players, officials and coaches to follow a similarly firm stance in the future.

And to show full support for their goalkeeper, last weekend Milan brought their Serie A fixture against Bologna to a momentary standstill in a powerful stand against discrimination, with fans transforming San Siro into a sea of light by using their smartphones to call for change.

'These actions are gonna suffer the consequences,' Musah insists. 'We're not just gonna sit there and take what's gone on. We're gonna do something about it.

'What we did last game was a great example of what more players should try and do so there's actually real consequences for what happens.'

At 21 years of age Musah is a wise and mature head on young shoulders, largely due to the multicultural upbringing he was forced to take in his stride.

After he was born in New York City to Ghanaian parents, the Musah family packed up and moved to the northern Italian town of Castelfranco Veneto, where their future soccer star spent his early years before he packed up again and headed to London to join Premier League club Arsenal's academy at the age of nine.

Hopping from country to country, culture to culture at such a young age would befuddle most children in need of a settled environment they could call home. Musah has never looked at it that way.

Musah is only 21 years of age but a wise and experienced head on young shoulders

Musah is only 21 years of age but a wise and experienced head on young shoulders

The USMNT midfielder spent his early years in a number of different countries and cultures

The USMNT midfielder spent his early years in a number of different countries and cultures

'It was nice to experience different countries at a young age, learning new languages and making new friends.

'It ultimately helped me get to where I am today and become the person I am today. So I'm really grateful for that.'

It was in Italy where Yunus first fell in love with the game he has dedicated his life to, with the most cherished days of his childhood spent playing soccer in the park with his three brothers and friends.

Mother Amina owned a shop nearby - providing the perfect halftime refreshments.   

'We would play, snack a bit with some stuff that my mum used to have, and then just keep on playing,' Musah recalls about his introduction to soccer, or football as he now refers to it as a player on European shores. 'That was pretty much my whole childhood in Italy.

'It's such a cool memory, I will never forget it. It was such a main part of my childhood - just thinking about playing football and nothing more.'

From the moment he kicked a ball around in that park, Musah unknowingly embarked on a journey to the upper echelons of his now-beloved sport. It didn't take him long to grow hellbent on carving out a career for himself in pro soccer - there was and never has been any other option on the table. 'I didn't know anything else,' he admits.

However, despite this unwavering passion for the game on a playing level, the Milan midfielder has never shared that enthusiasm for watching it.

'I didn't really support anyone or even watch football when I was a kid. I just played it,' he admits.

Musah has never been a huge soccer fan when it comes to watching games on the TV

Musah has never been a huge soccer fan when it comes to watching games on the TV

'When I was in Italy, until the age of nine I didn't really watch it at all. It was just when I came to England and there was Match of the Day on the weekend I would watch that.

'Even now I'm not obsessed with watching every game or watching games when I'm at home, but if there's a nice game on and I'm not focused on a series or something I'll watch it. 

'But most of the time if I'm into a series I'd rather focus on that, 'cos I'm always watching football anyway.'

So which TV series is taking up most of his time right now?

'Right now I'm watching The Rookie, it's about some police officers and stuff. I'm enjoying that.'

Despite not supporting a team, Musah was well aware of the size of the opportunity presented to him when Arsenal's academy came calling in 2012. 

The chance to join a Premier League giant was too good to turn down, even if it meant leaving his beloved town of Castelfranco. The desire to follow his dream was burning too strong.

He would spend seven years plying his trade at Arsenal's London Colney training facility, in which time he went from a boy to a man in everything but age.

Difficult times on the practice field in north London were the making of Musah as he experienced his first taste of the hustle and bustle that comes with following a career in the pro game. On several occasions he felt like throwing the towel in.

The New York-born star made the move to England at the age of nine to play for Arsenal

The New York-born star made the move to England at the age of nine to play for Arsenal

But at 16 he made the difficult choice to turn down a contract in north London and move to experience yet another new culture in Spain with Valencia

But at 16 he made the difficult choice to turn down a contract in north London and move to experience yet another new culture in Spain with Valencia

After resisting the urge to pack it all in, the New York-born Ghanaian was eventually offered professional terms by Arsenal. The childhood ambition had been fulfilled. 

The caveat, however, was that the path to first-team soccer was too far in the distance to make that deal worthwhile. It was time for another change, and another trip across Europe.

'I felt like at the time I could make that step to become a first-team player soon,' he reveals. 'But it would have taken more time to do it if I was at Arsenal. And Valencia believed that I could make that step earlier, like I believed as well. 

'So that was the decision. I didn't quite feel good about the offer that Arsenal made, so I went to Valencia where I felt like I could get to the first team quicker.'

While ultimately it didn't work out for him on a sporting level, out of all the cities he has experienced it is London that Musah calls 'home'.

'I was really enjoying my childhood in Italy, so it wasn't ideal for me to move,' he says. 'But London was great actually, I call it home now. 

'I love going there, I have so many friends and family there.'

Musah had to settle for a year in Valencia's reserve squad before being promoted to the senior team when Javi Gracia took over as coach in 2020. At just 17 years of age, the boy from Castelfranco fulfilled his childhood dream by making his pro debut.

If Arsenal's academy turned him from boy to man as a person, Spain was where Musah truly came of age on the field.

He featured 108 times in three full seasons at the Mestalla Stadium, making a minimum of 35 appearances in each of them, and even picked up the language in as little as six months. It was his progress as a player, though, which attracted the attention of a certain international head coach.

Musah transitioned from exciting prospect to first-team regular during his time in Valencia

Musah transitioned from exciting prospect to first-team regular during his time in Valencia

After representing England from Under-15 level up to Under-19s, the holy grail of the senior squad appeared further away than ever for Musah, despite Gareth Southgate himself urging him to remain patient. Smelling blood, the USA made their move.

'I really enjoyed my time with England, I never thought about switching at first,' Musah concedes before adding: 'But it came to a point where I was a first-team player in Valencia and I was still playing Under-19s with England that season. 

'The first-team manager of the US men's national team then called me, Gregg Berhalter. That was a big phone call to receive at such a young age, for me to go and play with the men's team. 

'So that was a huge opportunity that I felt like I couldn't refuse, and I've never looked back since.'

Musah is right when he says he's never looked back since. Just 33 games into his international career with the USMNT he has already achieved so much; having become the seventh-youngest debutant in history and the youngest ever player to reach that number of caps just before his 21st birthday back in November.

Nevertheless, the proudest moment so far came just over a year ago in Qatar, where he enjoyed a breakout tournament at the 2022 World Cup.

Before their eventual round-of-16 exit to the Netherlands, Musah produced a number of scintillating displays for USMNT in the Middle East, earning him some new admirers across Europe.

His impressive displays out in Spain caught the eye of US men's head coach Gregg Berhalter

His impressive displays out in Spain caught the eye of US men's head coach Gregg Berhalter

Musah represented England's youth teams from Under-15 level up to Under-18s

Musah represented England's youth teams from Under-15 level up to Under-18s

But the offer to play senior soccer for USA was too good to turn down, and he went on to become the youngest player to reach 33 caps

But the offer to play senior soccer for USA was too good to turn down, and he went on to become the youngest player to reach 33 caps

He also enjoyed a breakout tournament at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, earning him a host of suitors

He also enjoyed a breakout tournament at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, earning him a host of suitors

One of those interested parties was Milan, who lured him away from Valencia the following summer.

'It was nice to see that I could face some of the best teams on the biggest stage in the world and I could do well at that level,' Musah reflects on the World Cup. 'Then coming here [to Milan] I did well in some Champions League games and things like that, it has really boosted my confidence and helped me grow. 

'I feel like I'm getting better as a player and I'm trying to get to the best level I can.'

Six months on from his $20million move to the Italian capital, Musah is widely considered one of the most promising young players in world soccer.

Just like in Valencia, he quickly became an integral member of a Milan side also containing the likes of Olivier Giroud and compatriot Christian Pulisic. Before picking up a muscle injury last month, he had started eight of their previous ten Serie A games.

It is astonishing to bear in mind that after such a colorful upbringing, and sporting experiences in three different European countries, Musah is still just 21. 

That is more a frightening thought than an astonishing one for USMNT's rivals, particularly heading into this summer's Copa America on home soil.

Milan won the race for his signature after that tournament, with the Italian club now in possession of two key USMNT men in Musah and Christian Pulisic

Milan won the race for his signature after that tournament, with the Italian club now in possession of two key USMNT men in Musah and Christian Pulisic

'We're a great team, but it's not enough showing it. So it's a great opportunity to prove that in a tournament against some really tough teams in America,' Musah stresses.

Before then, however, USA's star in the making is simply soaking up the luxury of playing alongside Pulisic, his country's talisman of several years, and the World Cup-conquering and Champions League-winning Giroud over in Milan.

He still has to pinch himself now. 

'Sometimes you forget how great it is, but you've just reminded me that I'm playing with some of the best players in the world,' he gushes. 'I've been watching some of these guys like Giroud for years, so it's unbelievable to become his teammate. 

'It's something that I'll look back on and say is one of my proudest moments.'

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