Shkodran Mustafi is set to make his bow for Arsenal in a domestic cup final on Sunday, and he has plans on making it a successful trip to the national stadium.
Born in Hesse, Germany, Shkodran Mustafi grew up with a ball at his feet. At 14, he moved away from home to represent Hamburger SV, a move which led to him representing his national side at various age-group levels.
It seemed to be another one on the production line; German club, German boy — albeit of Macedonian heritage. This lad looked destined to shine in the Bundesliga, but then it all changed.
Premier League sides came calling in May 2009 and he decided to break the mould, making the jump to England. Everton was his destination – the 17-year-old was Merseyside-bound.
Mustafi made his debut off the bench later that year in a UEFA Cup match against BATE Borisov, but would not play another minute under boss David Moyes. The central defender was forced to up sticks again, heading to Sampdoria, and then Valencia, before making his way back to English shores in the summer of 2016.
“Even though I’d already left home at 14, coming to England at 17 was different,” stated the German international. “When you go to a different country with a different language, it's difficult, but at the end of the day, you are in a changing room. You have people around you, you have your daily work, the training sessions, so the time passes and after a while you feel at home.
“It’s not easy for a defender to get a place in the team when you’re only 17 and you haven’t played at senior level. For me, it was important to go somewhere to get games, so when I had the opportunity to go to Italy and to Spain, I had to do it.
“You get older, you have more experience and, after two years in Spain, I felt ready to come back and try it again. Obviously, when Arsenal comes in for you, it’s a big thing and you don’t think twice.”
He re-entered the English game with great pedigree, showing off something very few players can — a World Cup winner's medal.
Mustafi was a late call-up to the German squad for their triumphant 2014 tournament, but did feature in two of the group fixtures and was handed a start in their Round of 16 match with Algeria. His unfortunate run of cup injuries was then to start, though.
He was withdrawn late in the second half, and it was revealed a muscle injury would rule him out of the remainder of the tournament. The curse would haunt him years later – he was in line to be an integral part of the FA Cup Final last season, but a concussion prior to the Wembley showpiece meant he could not be risked at the heart of the Gunners' defence.
This year’s Carabao Cup Final gives Mustafi a chance to put those things right. He can now represent his side in a final, and it’ll be some task, when he and his team come up against a Manchester City side top of the Premier League and viewed by many as one of Europe's finest.
“I’m in our changing room every day; nobody wants to lose,” Mustafi added. “No matter the competition, we’re going to try and win it. This is a great trophy to win. We want to make our fans proud at Wembley.
“We need to make sure we are compact and concentrated for 90 minutes, and then we have to try and play our game. When we get the ball, move it as quick as we can and find Manchester City when they are not organised to break through.
“We have to be together, and help each other out. We will be doing all we can to lift the trophy at the end of the game.”