Meet Ahmed Musa: Nigeria's speedster set to boost Leicester's Champions League charge
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: October 14, 1992
- Place of birth: Jos, Nigeria
- Current club: CSKA Moscow (168 apps, 54 goals)
- Previous club(s): VVV Venlo
- International: Nigeria (58 caps, 11 goals)
Back in January, Leicester City offered more than €20million for Ahmed Musa, but CSKA Moscow president Yevgeni Giner refused to sell the Nigerian striker in mid-season, understanding that such a deal would be disastrous for their bid to stay top. Eventually, everything worked out perfectly for all involved.
The Foxes won a historic title, and the outcome could have been different with Musa on board. After all, we remember only too well what happened to Newcastle United when they signed Faustino Asprilla in February 1996 – the Colombian may have put in quality performances, but the balance within the squad had been lost. It turned out that Leicester were good enough with minimal rotation in the line-up.
At the same time, Musa was crucial for CSKA in their third title triumph in four years, contributing a career-best 17 goals in all competitions. With the mission accomplished, Giner is ready to let him go now, and the move from Russian champions to English champions looks imminent.
Why you need to know him
Musa could have arrived in the Premier League much earlier, with Arsenal and Tottenham having been keen on signing him from Dutch outfit VVV Venlo, but CSKA – shrewd dealers when it comes to unearthing promising young prospects at bargain prices – acted quicker and bought him for €5 million at the beginning of 2012.
Musa could have arrived in the Premier League much earlier, with Arsenal and Tottenham keen on signing him from the Dutch outfit VVV Venlo
They got a winger who was the top scorer in his homeland at the tender age of 17, won the African Youth Championship in April 2011, reached the Under-20 World Cup quarter-finals a few months later, and managed to make a name for himself in the Eredivisie. Not bad for a 19-year-old – but he was far from a finished article.
Musa used to play on the right wing for Venlo, but CSKA mostly used him on the left in the beginning. The Nigerian became one of the most important projects of coach Leonid Slutsky, who took the youngster under his wing and taught him to put pressure on the opposition without the ball and play smarter tactical football. Musa has always been very disciplined and dedicated, and his willingness to learn helped his progress immensely. “I am eternally grateful to Slutsky,” said the Nigerian. “He made me a real footballer.”
With star Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia frequently injured, the Nigerian was the only option to replace him, and thus had to play a lot of games in a central position. That was not natural for such a short player – Musa is just 5ft 7in tall – but he improved over time. CSKA trusted him to do the job, even after Doumbia was sold to Roma in January 2014 before leaving for Newcastle after a loan spell back at the Russian side last autumn.
Musa gained a lot of experience with the national team as well. He won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013, and was one of Nigeria's top performers at the 2014 World Cup, scoring a majestic brace against Argentina which meant he netted half of the goals Sergio Romero conceded in the entire tournament. Musa was even named captain last October, losing the armband to John Obi Mikel recently after a coaching change.
The 2015/16 season has certainly been Musa's best to date. He scored three important goals in the Champions League qualifiers and was prolific in the Russian league as well. It became obvious that CSKA were right to keep him in the spring, with Musa scoring seven times since March. The most beautiful effort was in the 2-0 win over Krasnodar – an unstoppable long-range shot.
Speed has always been Musa's most important asset. He is lightning quick, able to outpace any defender, and that's why playing on the wing is so natural for him. Two-footed, he feels equally at ease on both flanks and is rather hard to mark.
Under Slutsky, Musa became much more versatile and tactically aware. He is very fit, constantly on the move, always ready to receive the ball on the counter and adept at putting pressure on opponents' defenders and midfielders.
Musa is experienced beyond his age as well. At just 23, he has played 57 games for the national team, and – more importantly – has 24 Champions League fixtures under his belt. That might prove invaluable as Leicester make their debut in the competition next season.
He might be quick, but his technical skills are not perfect
Musa's concentration and coolness in front of goal has improved massively, but he is still far from world class and is capable of wasting easy chances at times. He might be quick, but his technical skills are not exactly perfect, and he can struggle against top defenders when there is no space in front of him. Additionally, his heading is poor, which is only logical for such a diminutive player.
“Musa deserves to play in the Premier League. We were very lucky to have him, both as a footballer and as a person,” said CSKA general manager Roman Babaev. “Ahmed works a lot and is very reliable. He wasn't disappointed when we decided not to sell him in the winter, but rather promised to help us win the title.”
Did you know?
Musa was once nicknamed ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ in his youth in Nigeria, even though there are few similarities between him and the Portuguese superstar. He has never supported Manchester United, though – Arsenal were his favourite team in the Premier League, mostly thanks to Nwankwo Kanu.
What happens next?
If Musa does indeed join Leicester, he is likely to fit in superbly. The Nigerian's speed is perfect for the Foxes' counter-attacking style; in fact, he became used to it at CSKA as well. Able to play as a centre-forward, second striker and on both wings, Musa will be a brilliant addition to the rotation, because he can easily replace each of Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki, Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton.
There will be no ego issues either, with Musa expected to be well-liked in the dressing room. He was respected by everyone at CSKA, and accepted criticism without any problems. Overall, the Foxes are unlikely to regret buying him.