Bayern Munich's Jamal Musiala and Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham are UEFA Euro 2020-bound after stellar campaigns in the Bundesliga, and the teenagers now have their sights on major international breakouts for Germany and England respectively.
The duo played alongside each other for England's youth sides, but could now face-off as early as the round of 16 at their first major international tournaments.
That would rekindle their domestic rivalry that, for now, has been put on ice and Musiala has already gone on record to say that he’d love the chance to go up against his good friend on the international stage.
"I would be very happy to play against him at the Euros or World Cup," Musiala told Sport Bild in March, shortly after opting to play for Germany over England. Musiala was born in Fulda - a central German city just north east of Frankfurt - but grew up in England after moving to the U.K. when he was seven.
With 24 youth international appearances for England, and two more for Germany, Musiala was torn between the two as a tug-of-war developed over his international future as 2020 moved into 2021.
After explaining he has "a heart for Germany, and a heart for England", Musiala eventually elected to represent the former from here on out and made his debut for Die Mannschaft in March's 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying victory over Iceland.
At the time, the then 17-year-old schemer quickly explained that, of all people, Bellingham would 'get' his choice the most.
"Jude will certainly understand my decision, and we will remain friends anyway," said Musiala. "I just have two hearts in me and I’m really proud to play for Germany now… For the country where I was born."
And on the back of a stellar first full season in the Bayern first-team, Musiala's performances were rewarded with a call-up to Joachim Löw's Euro 2020 squad. He described it as "a childhood dream come true", and his involvement this summer is fully merited.
The 2020/21 campaign saw Musiala add to his record as Bayern's youngest ever Bundesliga debutant (17 years, 115 days) by becoming the club's youngest ever scorer (17 years, 205 days), as he found the back of the net in the 8-0 opening weekend win over Schalke. Neither Musiala, nor Bayern, turned back from there.
Hansi Flick's side went on to lift the Meisterschale, with their teenage sensation scoring six times in 26 Bundesliga appearances. His brace in the victory over Wolfsburg on Matchday 29 meant Musiala became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach six goals and formed two of his three goals in April that earned him the club’s Player of the Month award.
Musiala also featured in both the semi-finals and final of Bayern’s successful FIFA World Club Cup campaign in February, and his importance is clearly growing at the Allianz Arena, regardless of his youth.
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"He's very much valued by our players, has tremendous quality, is calm on the ball and is difficult to stop in one-on-one situations," said Flick, who will continue working with Musiala when he takes over from Löw as Germany head coach after the Euros.
Former Germany striker and current DFB national team director Oliver Bierhoff is similarly animated about Musiala's future: "I'm very excited that Jamal Musiala is here [in the Euro 2020 squad]. He's a great footballer and has already given glimpses of what he's capable of."
The England set-up may have missed out on Musiala, but they are positively purring at the prospect of Bellingham furthering his sensational progress since moving to Dortmund at the European Championships.
"Jude is phenomenal," drooled England head coach Gareth Southgate recently. "To have a 17-year-old, who wants to compete with senior players, not only has the technique, but the competitiveness and maturity… he's a hugely exciting player. He's going to be an important player for England. We"re not just taking him for the experience."
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Even the most fleeting glimpses of Bellingham this year will have shown that he is far from joining up with Southgate’s team to make up the numbers.
This, after all, is a 17-year-old that featured in 46 of Dortmund's 51 matches in all competitions last season, scored his first UEFA Champions League goal at a critical juncture of the quarter-finals, played in every round - and started the final - of their DFB Cup-winning campaign and became the youngest scorer in BVB history at 17 years, 77 days.
It's a lot to take in, but so is Bellingham: an all-action, box-to-box midfielder with craft and vision that compliment, rather than contradict, his graft and constant running. His admirers this term include Jadon Sancho, Edin Terzic and Pep Guardiola, to name just a few, while he has a maturity that seems to mock his youth.
That maturity can be seen in his desire to get on the ball and influence matches, with Bellingham never one to shy away from the action. In total, he averaged 71 ball contacts per game in the Bundesliga, while his efforts in Europe also left an indelible impression on Southgate.
"His performance levels with Dortmund in the big Champions League games were the things that really struck us," said Southgate. "He stood up in those big moments. They are the moments we're really assessing the players on."
Bellingham's efforts saw the Birmingham-born midfielder establish himself as one of the first names on Dortmund's teamsheet by the end of 2020/21, and that could soon also be the case with England.
Having made his senior debut in November, Bellingham started the latest of his three caps in the 1-0 win over Austria that served as a tournament pre-cursor. He described his combined call-up and first start as a "special couple of days", and there will surely be more of those to come over the next two months for both Bellingham and his mate, Musiala.
Between them, they already have an army of over a million followers on social media, and that legion of supporters will only grow over the coming months and years - starting at the Euros this summer.
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