Rarely has there been such hype surrounding a young player as there was before Youssoufa Moukoko made his Bundesliga debut. On 21 November 2020, that moment finally arrived: One day after his 16th birthday, he came on for Erling Haaland in the game against Hertha Berlin on Bundesliga Matchday 8 (which BVB won 5-2), making him the youngest player in Bundesliga history. He broke the record previously held by Nuri Sahin, who made his debut in August 2005 against Wolfsburg at the age of 16 and 335 days. On 8 December 2020, Moukoko made his debut in the UEFA Champions League (coming on as a substitute in St. Petersburg for the final 32 minutes of the game) and became the youngest player in the history of the competition at the tender age of 16 and 18 days. His equaliser in the away game against Union Berlin (which BVB went on to lose 2-1) on 18 December 2020 also made him the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Bundesliga to date.
"He's already really good. I saw Toni Kroos playing at the age of 16 or 17. Mario Götze and Christian Pulisic too. Youssoufa definitely ranks among the best I've ever played with at that age," Mats Hummels said in an interview with the Sport-Bild newspaper about his young teammate, whose career path appears to only have an upward trajectory. "I got so many offers, but I just wanted to go to the club where I knew: Okay, this is where you want to make it," Moukoko said in "BVB 09 – Stories who we are" on DAZN, adding: "BVB showed me a plan, and so far, it is going exactly according to that plan. In the end, I chose Dortmund because BVB have produced several young players. It's actually a crazy amount – a house number."
Youssoufa Moukoko came from FC St. Pauli to Borussia Dortmund's youth performance centre in the summer of 2016 and attracted attention right from the start. As a twelve-year-old, he was part of the U17 team, scoring goals for fun, and won the German Championship with the team in 2018 before reaching the final again in 2019. He scored 141 goals in just 88 games for the U17s and U19s (source: deltarte). In 2017, he won the German Championship with the U17s, scoring the winning goal in the 3-2 triumph in the final against Bayern Munich.
In the BORUSSIA members' magazine (December 2019 issue), he spoke about his time as a youth player: "Sometimes I sit in my room and think about how I got here and how fast everything has happened. Now I am playing for Borussia Dortmund, and I have away trips to Barcelona, Milan or Prague – a few years ago, I just kicked a ball around with my friends for fun." In Cameroon, where Youssoufa spent his early years living with his grandparents before moving to Hamburg in 2014, things were very different: “We only had one ball, and if it got kicked away, then we didn’t have a ball anymore. I know how hard it still is for a lot of people there. We didn’t have any football boots or jerseys. I often talk to my friends about this time."
Youssoufa has been carefully developed – and challenged – at BVB. "We wanted to give him the best possible protection and not put him on a pedestal," says youth coordinator Lars Ricken. It was a conscious decision on the part of the club and the player’s family not to push the exceptionally talented youngster into the limelight. In any case, it’s not clear where Youssoufa’s journey will take him. "He has great talent, there's no question about it," says Ricken: "but talent alone won't get you to the top. Youssoufa is incredibly hard-working. He trains a lot, is very ambitious and always wants to win and score goals. And through all of this, he has never lost the sense of joy in the game."
"He's a lot better than I was at that age. I've never seen a 15-year-old as good as him," said Erling Haaland, four-and-a-half years his senior, in Autumn 2020, and gave his thoughts on a key difference which may be behind that: "He's already training in Dortmund – when I was his age, I was still in my hometown of Bryne." Captain Marco Reus tempered his words of praise with a note of restraint: "Youssoufa is a top lad and an unbelievable talent for his age. But I think we would do him a big favour if we stopped talking about him so much. I hope he gets the chance to develop in peace."
Moukoko made 14 appearances in his first Bundesliga season (12 times as a substitute, twice as a starter) until his season was cut short by a foot ligament injury in late March 2021. On average, he fired in a shot every 22 minutes in 2020/21 (the best in the team) and reached a top speed of 34.7 km/h. In the 2021/22 season, he suffered several injury setbacks.
Moukoko could have chosen to represent Cameroon – the country of his birth – at international level, but instead he decided to play for Germany. He made his debut for the U16s on 11 September 2017 and became the first 16-year-old to play for the Germany U21s in September 2021. He went on to score six goals in his first four games.