Borussia Dortmund club officials have warned that Rising Future Star – Youssoufa Moukoko, the wunderkind who only turned 16 yesterday, might not make a record-breaking professional debut away to Hertha Berlin tonight after all.
“We will try not to fuel the flames of the hype any further,” said sporting director Michael Zorc.
But this particular wildfire is pretty much out of control already and unlikely to die down any time soon. Potentially, Lucien Favre will decide to leave the forward out of his squad for the trip to the capital. The excitement and intrigue surrounding Moukoko will only keep building.
There’s simply never been a talent this precocious at such a young age in German football, excelling against much older players every step of the way.
The Hype Surrounding Moukoko.
In 88 games at under-17 (making his debut at age 12; he scored twice) and under-19 level for Dortmund, Rising Future Star – Youssoufa Moukoko has scored 141 goals. Watching him toy with defenders in those matches was almost unsettling, and keeping him at that level would have been pointless, if not detrimental.
“Players need to have space to develop,” Dortmund youth coordinator Lars Ricken, a former teen prodigy at the club himself, said. “Everyone should become the best footballer they can be here at our club.”
Moukoko was promoted to the seniors in the summer. But couldn’t play for them in a competitive game until this week due to Bundesliga regulations. There is not much doubt he’s ready though. Assistant coach Otto Addo, who has kept a close eye on the youngster’s progress, says Moukoko has had “few problems” adjusting to training with Favre’s squad of grown men.
“Nothing’s really changed for him because he’s always been very hard-working,” the former Dortmund midfielder tells The Athletic. “Youssoufa is the kind of guy who always trains with 100 percent intensity anyway. Passes get to him quickly and with more precision (than at the youth level). So in a way, playing with the pros has even made things a little easier for him.”
That’s probably true in more than one sense.
As long as the Cameroon-born son of a German father was humiliating defenders. That was two and three years older than him at youth level, suspicions about his age were all but inevitable. Following his move from St. Pauli at the age of 11. He had moved to Hamburg to be with his father a year earlier. He was soon scoring for fun in Dortmund Under-16s, prompting a media investigation into his background.
Problems Regarding His Age
The club pointed to his birth certificate issued by the German embassy in Cameroon. And refused to get drawn into the speculation, while the FA stopped calling him up to their youth teams altogether for three years, keen to avoid the hype, as Germany Under-21s coach Stefan Kuntz put it. Now he’s eligible for the senior side, however, this slightly sordid topic is no longer relevant. Dortmund officials joke they would have been happy for Moukoko to be older — that way, he could have featured in the Bundesliga much earlier.
What Others Think Of Rising Future Star – Youssoufa Moukoko
Everyone describes him as shy, polite, completely unfazed by all the attention, and very driven. It’s not uncommon to find him hitting the weights at 7 am twice a week. An hour before the gym at the training ground is officially open. It’s that attitude, as well as his irrepressible talent, that has seen him being treated with instant respect by the first-teamers.
“They accepted him straightaway because they saw what he could do,” Addo says. “Our team have a high level of football intelligence, they’re very welcoming and supportive of young players.”
It will have helped, no doubt, that some of the regulars, like Giovanni Reyna (18 years old), Jude Bellingham (17), Jadon Sancho, and Erling Haaland (both 20) are not that much older than him, but he’s also found more seasoned pros very approachable.
“It’s not like he’s only hanging out with Gio and Erling and so on,” Addo says. “I often see Marco Reus and Mats Hummels talking to him, giving him advice about some details. Roman Burki and Marwin Hitz, too, have told him the best way to press goalkeepers, for example. They have explained to him how he can engage the keeper at the right angle. Cutting off passes to a specific defender at the same time. It’s little things like that. Everyone’s incredibly helpful. But it’s not just about him: all the other young players are getting the same treatment here.”
Lucien Favre’s Role.
Much of that is down to Favre. The Swiss coach hasn’t been an unqualified success since being appointed in May 2018. But his ability to develop individual players is not in doubt. Every time a high-potential youngster has come close to a first-team debut. Dortmund has cautioned against grand expectation. But, without fail, they proved so good so quickly that Favre was prepared to look past their age and make them mainstays in the first XI.
Thus, much of the fascination with Rising Future Star – Youssoufa Moukoko is firmly rooted in recent history. People trust Favre’s Dortmund to turn out the next school-age star performer because of their strong track record in doing just that. Listening to Addo extolling the player’s strengths, you can’t help but feel confident the pattern will repeat itself.
“Youssoufa is a very good finisher, with both feet, and he stays calm in front of goal, taking an extra touch if necessary,” the 45-year-old Addo says. “His deep runs are also very good. He’s got great timing and he’s very switched on. He has got a sense of how things happen on the pitch and where a high ball might land.”
Like many players before him, the striker is benefitting from Favre’s fabled attention to detail in training.
“He loves working on players’ technique, especially with young players,” says Addo. “He often takes Youssoufa aside to do special sessions: crossing and shooting the ball with Marco Reus.”
Asked to come up with aspects of Moukoko’s game that still need improving, Addo needs to think for a moment.
“He runs a lot, sometimes maybe too much, because he’s so eager to get involved. He can get better, too, when it comes to tackles and duels. But that’s only natural. He will learn.”
Why Rising Future Star – Youssoufa Moukoko will make a name for himself.
It’s because Dortmund are so sure of Moukoko’s quality. That they are unmoved by the public’s clamour for instant fireworks.
“We believe in his potential but it’s really important not to rush things,” Addo says, with extra emphasis. “He might play his first game on Saturday, or next week or maybe in two months. He has all the time in the world.”