Nigeria’s new captain Ahmed Musa of CSKA Moscow faces Manchester United in Moscow this evening hoping to make his mark against the English team.
Musa comes into the game in good form. If he keeps his composure in front of goal, United could be in big trouble.
This article is from ESPN.
Nigeria star Ahmed Musa ready to shine against Manchester United
Daley Blind is likely to remember his first game against Ahmed Musa very well. It was August 2011, when Ajax fans still used to think that Blind was a huge liability in defence. A visit to lowly VVV Venlo didn’t help to change their minds.
Early in the second half, Musa — a little known 18-year-old Nigerian — made Daley look like a complete amateur, going past the left-back as though he wasn’t there at all, before rifling the ball into the bottom corner to complete a brilliant personal brace. The underdogs went 2-0 up, Blind had to be substituted a few minutes later, and only watched from the bench as Ajax somehow salvaged a draw.
Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo won’t forget Musa in a hurry too. Argentina only conceded four goals in seven matches during the 2014 World Cup, and half of them were scored by the diminutive Nigerian — both absolutely breathtaking pieces of quality finishing. Rojo scored the last goal in a 3-2 win for La Albiceleste, but Musa didn’t even let Lionel Messi upstage him. He was one of the brightest stars on the show.
Musa’s meteoric rise continued when — just days before his 23rd birthday — he was named the new captain of the national team, in a rather controversial decision by coach Sunday Oliseh that prompted Vincent Enyeama to announce his international retirement.
Vastly experienced beyond his age, he is now considered the leader of the new generation, and one of the most exciting stars in the whole of Africa. Given his status, you might be surprised to see him playing in Russia, but that would be the wrong way to look at it. To put it simply, CSKA Moscow most certainly proved to be the perfect club for Musa.
The fact that CSKA managed to sign Musa in January 2012 speaks volumes of the club’s outstanding management and shrewd transfer market policy. Whereas the likes of Zenit liked to pay outrageous money for superstars, CSKA always believed in scouting and exploring hidden opportunities. Seydou Doumbia, for example, was signed from Young Boys in 2010, and their good links to the Eredivisie have always been very important.
CSKA must be very disappointed that VVV play in the second division these days, because their ties with the small outfit from Limburg are exceptional. Japanese star midfielder Keisuke Honda started his European adventure at Venlo before CSKA bought him in late 2009. Two years on, it was time for Musa to follow his steps, despite keen interest from quite a few Premier League clubs.
It is easy to understand why the youngster was scouted by many, because his career started with some aplomb in Nigeria. Ahmed’s father didn’t want his son to become a footballer, but rather preferred that he studied medicine.
It was difficult to curb his talents, however, and at the tender age of 17 Musa was crowned the top scorer in Nigerian first division, finding the net 18 times for Kano Pillars who finished as runners-up in 2009-10.
Venlo were quick to sign him, along with two of his compatriots, and were rewarded with five goals in Musa’s first season in Holland. That wasn’t a phenomenal record by any means, but scouts sat up and took notice of his performances with the Nigerian under-20 team.
First they won the African Youth Championship in April 2011, and then reached the quarterfinals at the World Cup in Colombia four months later, beating England in the process. Musa scored in each of the three games at the group stage, and was shortlisted for the Golden Ball.
Quite bizarrely, Musa was nicknamed Cristiano Ronaldo in his homeland, even though he is very slightly built, and his style isn’t similar to the Portuguese superstar at all. The only thing they have in common is lightning speed, but the Nigerian enjoyed the comparison, because he is a big fan of Cristiano.
If you think that makes him a Manchester United fan as well, though, you’d be totally wrong. Musa’s idol has always been Nwankwo Kanu, and therefore he is an Arsenal supporter. That was the major reason the youngster didn’t want to move to Tottenham, who showed interest in the beginning of 2011.
In fact, Arsenal were in the frame later that year as well, but Arsene Wenger never made an official offer to Venlo, and in the meantime CSKA acted very fast, after their scouts were left mightily impressed with Musa’s performances in Colombia.
That was a great choice. Musa would never have immediately walked into the starting line-up in the Premier League, but that’s what he accomplished at CSKA, scoring on his debut in the big game versus Zenit in March 2012. Coach Leonid Slutsky knew that his new protege was a versatile attacker.
Musa used to play on the right wing for Venlo, but that role is taken by ex-Manchester United midfielder Zoran Tosic at CSKA, and the Nigerian was used on the left. Remarkably, though, he had to play as the centre-forward more often than not, when injury-prone Doumbia was missing. That is not a natural position for someone who is just 170 centimetres tall, but Musa tried his best and improved over time.
Not everything went smoothly in his first full season in Russia in 2012-13. Musa might have scored 11 league goals, but squandered a lot of easy chances and his conversion rate was criticized not only in the press but even by his teammates.
“I try my best not to go berserk when he keeps missing,” veteran stopper Sergey Ignashevich said, lamenting that his club doesn’t have a real substitute for Doumbia.
And yet, Slutsky continued to believe in Musa, always kept him in the team and gave him confidence, admiring his outstanding work rate. CSKA played quite a few games behind closed doors in recent seasons, and it is easy to hear coaches in such cases. It became evident that Slutsky constantly shouts Musa’s name, asking him to put pressure on opponents — and that is precisely what the Nigerian is used to doing.
Gradually, Musa started to win over doubters. He is much calmer in front of goal nowadays, and uses the ball better on the wing. That made his role more important in the national team as well. Musa lost his place in the starting line-up when Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations in 2013, only entering as a substitute in the final against Burkina Faso, but by the time the World Cup in Brazil came by he was a key member of the squad. Now, with 54 caps to his name at such a young age, he is the captain, which is a great reward for his club form.
Musa made crucial contributions when CSKA won two championship titles in a row in 2013 and 2014, and scored in the Russian Cup final against Anzhi Makhachkala two years ago as well, but was still considered a bit raw and wasteful. Nobody will dare to describe him that way today, because his form has been outstanding since the beginning of the season.
The Nigerian is leading the scoring charts in Russia with six goals in 12 matches — easily the best ratio in his European career. His self-belief is sky high — he promised to score in the derby against Spartak Moscow and beat them, and was true to his word in a 2-1 win. Even more importantly, he has netted four times in the Champions League, which is an incredible improvement for a player who scored just two goals in Europe in all the previous seasons combined.
Without Musa, CSKA wouldn’t have made it to the group stage at all. Following the 2-2 home draw with Sparta Prague in the qualifiers, the Russians trailed 2-0 in the return leg, only for Musa to score a brace and stage a great comeback in a 3-2 triumph.
Things were even more difficult in the playoff round against Sporting Lisbon who won 2-1 in Portugal and took a 1-0 lead at half-time in the return leg in Moscow. After the break, Musa assisted Doumbia who scored twice, and then netted the dramatic winner himself with five minutes remaining, expertly converting a chance he would probably have missed a couple of years ago.
Musa scored in the 3-2 win over PSV Eindhoven in late September, and has 10 goals to his name in all competitions already. He is fast, skilful, fearless, hardworking and very confident, making him extremely dangerous against any opposition. Blind, Rojo and Romero know that already, and the rest of Manchester United squad could find that out themselves on Wednesday.