Phoenix reject Musa loves life at Fulham
On Tuesday, Whanganui's James Musa was marking Dimitar Berbatov at Fulham training.
It rammed home the reality of a remarkable career transformation for the Phoenix reject, who was slogging away for Team Wellington five months ago.
But professional football is a fickle business, and a 35-minute cameo for New Zealand against Egypt at the Olympics was enough for the athletic centre back to catch the eye of Fulham's head scout.
Musa is signed with the English Premier League club until January and, although he is yet to play a game, is in the frame to debut against Liverpool in an under-21 fixture on Tuesday.
"It's just a massive eye-opener, you know, like I was at home a month ago, watching the Premier League on TV, now I'm at Fulham training with the likes of Berbatov," Musa said from west London.
"It is pretty crazy. You've got everything you could want, ice baths, massages, people there to cut your nails, it's top notch."
Musa hasn't yet indulged in a manicure, nor does he hold a grudge against the Phoenix, who released him after playing three games in the 2010-11 A-League.
Now 20, Musa simply says "everything happens for a reason".
After an initial period of confusion, he is grateful Team Wellington allowed him the platform to refocus towards his goals of playing at the Olympics and the under-20 World Cup.
Musa has had three weeks training with Fulham but his opportunities for game time with the under-21s have been blocked by the likes of senior pros Philippe Senderos and Zdenek Grygera, bidding for returns to the first team.
"It is frustrating but you can understand why," Musa said.
"I'm not angry about it. I had a chat to the coach the other day and he just said keep battling on and your chance will come. So I'm not taking it as a negative, because I know the players coming down are Premier League players."
He has ideal role models just across town in Ryan Nelsen and Winston Reid, who have been starring in the heart of defence for Queen's Park Rangers and West Ham United respectively.
"I've been watching them but they've been away on internationals so it's hard to get hold of them," Musa said. "But I got an email from Neil Emblen to say Ryan wants my number so I think we're going to get in touch. QPR is quite close to where I am so I think we'll meet up one day."
An average day at Fulham starts at 9am and ends at 4.30pm.
A team breakfast is followed a "pre-activation" warmup - "they're really big on glute exercises" - before an intense field session complete with GPS and heart rate monitors.
Once lunch settles, players hit the gym again before another hour-long field session to work on technique and specifics such as shooting or passing.
"After that you shower up and have a meeting or review the game.
"It's quite a long day but it's everyone's dream to do something that you love and earn a living doing it. I'm not trying to make millions of pounds right now. I'm just happy to get the opportunity and the money will come later."
The Dominion Post