James Musa is poised to complete a remarkable career turnaround by signing with English Premier League club Fulham.
The centre back from Whanganui caught the eye of Fulham's chief scout while playing for New Zealand at the London Olympics and will put pen to paper on a short-term deal before the August transfer window closes at 10am today (NZT).
Musa played three games for the Wellington Phoenix in 2010-11 but was not re-signed and dropped down to the national league with Team Wellington.
The 20-year-old flew out of Auckland for London on Thursday night, but did not want to discuss details of the move until it was completed.
The transfer was a formality, pending a medical, after Musa impressed Fulham's coaching staff during trials and games after the Olympics.
"It is a big jump but he's a very good athlete and he's got a nice left foot," said NZ Olympic coach and former Premier League defender Neil Emblen.
"They're not expecting him to play in the Premier League straight away, they're going to try to develop him further so he can then kick on."
Musa and Emblen stayed on at the athletes' village after the Olympics and then "jumped on the Tube" out to Fulham's training base.
"James trained really well the day that I watched. He looked like he fitted in perfectly well," Emblen said.
"He then played a couple of games against non-league teams, in that squad, and did well. I can see why teams do want to talk to him because you just look at him and he looks like a superb athlete."
Musa's deal was for five months, with Fulham then able to make a call on either signing him to a longer contract, or moving him on in the January transfer window, Emblen said.
Musa was initially likely to play for Fulham in the Premier Reserve League with other promising players in the 18 to 22 age bracket.
Six Kiwis have played in the Premier League: Ryan Nelsen, Winston Reid, Chris Wood, Danny Hay, Lee Norfolk and Simon Elliott, who played for Fulham in 2005-06.
Fulham have been busy as the August transfer window draws to a close, selling Belgian midfielder Moussa Dembele to Tottenham for £15m and acquiring Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United for £5m.
"They had smashing facilities, when we went there. I was gobsmacked to be honest," Emblen said.
"Manicured fields, a great training complex. They're an established Premier League team now. James just really needs to have the desire now. Because when he's concentrating and into it, he's a really good player.
"I just think he has that tendency to sometimes drop into cruise control and, when he does, that's when he could get found out at that level. But maybe this is the challenge he needs."
Musa's talent was first identified by Phoenix assistant coach Jonathan Gould at a New Zealand age-group tournament. But he was handed a hospital pass in 2010 by Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert, who asked Musa to make his A-League debut out of position at left back, and was predictably turned inside out by Melbourne Victory stars Archie Thompson and Robbie Kruse.
After being unwanted by the Phoenix, Musa gradually rebuilt his confidence at Team Wellington and Emblen said his perseverance was admirable.
"Now it's his time to prove whether he can deliver or not. I'm just hoping that he can."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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