Steffen Tepel is a former junior combined skier World Champion, who now specialises as a neuro-athletics coach. He believes football is heavily dependent upon your visual and cognitive skills, and mentors many elite footballers to help with their agility, peripheral vision and decision-making.
Tepel explained to SPOX how players should dribble without fixation upon the ball and focus upon a point in the distance. “Whoever masters the ball without constantly looking at it automatically has a higher ball control.”
One player under his tutelage, Jamal Musiala. Despite Germany’s bitterly disappointing World Cup campaign, which meant they have suffered successive group stage eliminations [Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022] for the first time in their history, Musiala emerged from the rubble of their 4-2 victory over Costa Rica within touching distance of a record.
Jamal Musiala successfully completed 13 dribbles tonight.
That’s the second most ever recorded in a World Cup game.
— VisualGame (@avisualgame) December 1, 2022
The attacking midfield sensation had executed Tepel’s methods to perfection and was close to a piece of history. Second only to mercurial and magical Jay-Jay Okocha, who completed 15 dribbles versus Italy in 1994 – it is the type of company the youngster keeps.
Musiala had decorated proceedings with elegance and impudence. His diminutive and weaving stature was a nightmare for the Central American defenders as he gracefully glided around the pitch, leaving opponents chasing his shadow.
At one stage in the first half, he latched onto Ilkay Gundogan’s through-ball in the penalty area, and with nine touches, he slalomed through six Costa Rican players, maintaining an incredible balance. It seems Musiala is already the master of an art at 19 years old. Tepel, who has closely overseen the attacker’s meteoric rise to stardom, warned the world of his spell-binding abilities last year.
“His one-on-one imagination is simply a special gift,” he said. His coordination, coupled with his technical skills and his typical, lightning-fast lateral movements, allow him to meander through the enemy lines. These are high neural requirements that Jamal masters superbly.
He also hit the woodwork twice in the second half – a goal was the only element missing from a mesmerising performance. The first German teenager to appear at a World Cup since 1958, he inducted himself into the international arena in the most captivating fashion. Across all three group games, Musiala was a nightmare for the opposition to deal with.
Here’s a graph showing players’ ball progression vs shot creation. pic.twitter.com/4cfax1138A
— VisualGame (@avisualgame) December 2, 2022
He ranks at the top next to Antoine Griezmann and Joshua Kimmich during the World Cup group stages for the highest xThreat (open play carries and passes into dangerous areas) and shot-creating actions (a pass or dribble that leads to an effort on goal.) A glowing reflection upon his influence – a constant danger and the driving force of many offensive plays, the generational potential of Musiala has been fully unlocked.
This isn’t a recent upturn in form, since his Bayern Munich debut in June 2020 in a Bundesliga match against SC Freiburg – when he became the youngest player to play for the Bavarians in a league fixture aged 17 years and 115 days – he has become an indispensable component of the German juggernaut.
In the two Bundesliga seasons between 2020 and 2022, he appeared in 56 of Bayern’s 68 league games, a glowing testament to his importance to one of the best and most decorated clubs in Europe. By the same age, Thomas Muller hadn’t even reached double figures. Far from a passenger, a player who only turned 19 in February, he has amassed 27 goals and 15 assists for Bayern so far in his career.
According to data supplied by FBRef across the last 365 days, involving Europe’s top five leagues versus all other attacking midfielders and wingers, he ranks:
- In the 85th percentile for non-penalty goals – 0.45 per 90
- In the 87th percentile for non-penalty expected goals – 0.42 per 90
- In the 88th percentile for assists – 0.35 per 90
- In the 90th percentile for dribbling – 2.57 per 90
- In the 93rd percentile for touches in the attacking penalty area – 6.62 per 90
- In the 93rd percentile for non-penalty expected goals plus assisted goals – 0.7 per 90
These stats represent an unbridled eagerness to be involved in attacking sequences, which has translated into impressive numbers this season. He has nine goals and six assists in 14 Bundesliga appearances, which means he has already overtaken his league tally from last season. He has become a reliable creator and goal-scorer for a Bayern side relentlessly chasing an eleventh consecutive Bundesliga title.
The now 19-year-old has seamlessly slotted in and appears the perfect heir to Muller’s throne. He also possesses a useful versatility that Julien Nagelsmann has enormously benefited from. His electric pace and remarkable dribbling mean he has often been deployed as a left-sided attacking midfielder, as well as his customary number ten role behind the striker, as he has looked equally astute in both positions.
Danny Schwarz, Bayern under-17s coach, has also marvelled over the German’s artistry. “He’s a street footballer,” said Schwarz. “He doesn’t say to himself: ‘Now I’m going to do two stepovers and then I’ll move the ball to the left with his foot. He does it intuitively. I have only very rarely seen that in a player. That’s a gift, you can’t train that.”
The shining light of a Germany side crying out for a rebuild and another unwavering cog of Bayern’s merciless winning machine. Musiala is widely regarded as Germany’s biggest talent and has his nation eulogising over his limitless potential. If he continues on this frightening trajectory, a glittering and trophy-laden career lies ahead of him.
The premature sales of Kevin De Bruyne and Mohammed Salah are widely considered to be Chelsea’s biggest transfer regrets, but their failure to convince teenager Jamal Musiala to commit to West London could be their most fateful mistake.
By: Alex Connor / @alexjconnor
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alexander Hassenstein – Getty Images