The excited shrieks of the young football fans left no doubt as to who they thought was the biggest star of the German U21 national team. Loudly called out by the many children, Youssoufa Moukoko patiently signed balls and jerseys and posed for lots of souvenir selfies.
The huge interest in the 18-year-old super talent at the training camp in South Tyrol gives an idea of how big the hype could get when the Borussia Dortmund striker fulfills his European Championship goals: Moukoko wants to win the title at the tournament in Georgia and Romania - and preferably also the top scorer cannon.
Actually, Moukoko is already U21 European champion. But only on paper, because he doesn't feel that way himself. At the age of 16, he did not play in the preliminary round of the two-part tournament in 2021 and was injured in the knockout phase. "If I win a title, I also want to contribute something. That wasn't the case two years ago. I didn't play a minute," said the exceptional striker. "If we win this time, and with the quality of the players we can win this thing, it would be different." The first opponent on Thursday (6:00 p.m. CEST/Sat.1) is Israel, against whom Germany narrowly prevailed twice in qualifying.
Moukoko, the star of the U21 team
Moukoko, who had a whiff of World Cup air during the debacle of the senior national team in Qatar, is the most valuable player in the U21 selection with an estimated market value of around 30 million euros. At the tournament in the Persian Gulf last year, as the youngest German World Cup player, he set another record in a career that was full of superlatives but was still very young. Youngest here, youngest there - everyone is predicting a glorious career for the Cameroon-born pro. Even in the junior division, he caused a stir with incredible hit rates.
"He knows what he can do. He's a huge talent who has to confirm that against top opponents at the European Championships. He has to assert himself there. He has what it takes and we'll see it in the next few games," said the German Co coach and talent expert Hermann Gerland. Moukoko is the second youngest player in coach Antonio Di Salvo's selection after Nelson Weiper from Mainz. But years full of praise and a steep rise in Dortmund and in the DFB teams mean that even at just 18 years of age, the right to play a leading role against opponents who are sometimes five years older. Super talent obliges.
"These are players who want and can score goals, both have proven that. They are really greedy in front of the goal," Di Salvo said of his teenage attack. Moukoko is set as a starting XI player, and he can also be a support for newcomer Weiper. "I know what it's like when you're the new player. I've always been," Moukoko recalls.
Moukoko: "For the pros, only performance counts"
The hype surrounding him has leveled off a bit, although he's still the focus of particular attention. As with his contract extension until June 30, 2026, which took longer than initially assumed. "Any player who scores goals that early is called a prodigy. But records are made to be broken. Mine will eventually be broken too," Moukoko said. "You're happy to have the records, but in the end you can't buy anything for them. With the professionals, only performance counts."
That also applies to Dortmund. After a good first half of the season, the attacker - also stopped by an injury - had to deal with a reduced goal quota in the second half of the season. He scored six of his seven league goals up until the 13th matchday of the Dortmund Bundesliga season that ended so bitterly.
"It still hurts a bit when you think back that you were only a game away from bringing the big championship title back to Dortmund," said Moukoko, who "definitely" wants to attack again with Dortmund in the new season. "If you end up with empty hands, it hurts a lot. But now we've tasted blood."
This also applies to the European Championship finals, which he would not only like to finish as European champion, but also as the top scorer. "I have no problem with him becoming the top scorer and us being European champions. Then we can go to the Olympic Games together, there's nothing better," said Gerland.