Youssoufa Moukoko, the youngest player of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Photo: German Football Association
Youssoufa Moukoko, the youngest player of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Photo: German Football Association

The World Cup in Qatar has brought a new generation of players into the spotlight. Some of them are immigrants who shine on the world stage with the jersey of their adopted country. Among them is the German footballer of Cameroonian origin Youssoufa Moukoko -- a rising star who has overcome serious hurdles.

On November 23, in the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, in the 89th minute of the game, the left-hander Youssoufa Moukoko replaced Serge Gnabry and broke the record for the youngest player in the history of the German football team to play a match in a World Cup. The 18-year-old prodigy from Borussia Dortmund entered the history of the biggest football competition, and even if his team lost to the Japanese (1-2), the talented attacking midfielder is making a place for himself in the football world.

Despite his youthful smile and juvenile features, Youssoufa Moukoko's journey has been full of pitfalls. His success is the result of a fierce battle to build his career and achieve his football dreams.

Yousouffa was born in Yaoundé in Cameroon in November 2004, as one of four siblings. His mother, Marie, was the head of the household and the caretaker of the children. Yousoufa’s father, Joseph, spent most of the year in Germany, after having obtained a job in Europe. "I missed my father every day he was gone, and I thought a lot about him and the sacrifices he made for all of us. Living alone in Europe away from his family to support us was a huge responsibility and he had always done it with a lot of love and support, despite the distance," remembers Youssoufa.

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Dream of playing in Europe

He played in his neighborhood with his friends, and dreamt of a destiny like the one of Samuel Eto'o, the idol of an entire nation who brought the Indomitable Lions to the summit of Africa after winning the African Cup of Nations (CAN) twice in the 2000s. "We played with a smile, full of carelessness and with stars in our eyes. We started dreaming of a marvelous destiny and of becoming the next star of the continent to shine on the world stage," he said.

Youssoufa played in match after match with Europe in his sights and his dream of becoming a football player deeply anchored in him. His father tried to bring him with the rest of his family to join him in Germany, but in vain. Despite the difficulties, Youssoufa's mental strength already set him apart. "I quickly sensed that my son had a strength of character well above average, not only in the way he handled situations despite his very young age, but also in his incessant desire to aim for the Moon, even when the sky was filled with dark clouds," his father Joseph recalls today. "I tried to bring them to Europe for a very long time, it was a constant battle. I think the years he lived in Cameroon and the hardships there made him ready to take on every challenge," he continued.

As early as eight years old, Youssoufa became an attraction in districts of Yaoundé where he regularly martyrized the defense during tournaments organized all over the city. Daily life was not easy with Yousouffa and his family waiting for a sign from Joseph and a visa for Germany. In the spring 2014, a door opened when the German club of Sankt Pauli located in the suburbs of Hamburg asked Youssoufa to join the club's training center.

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Youssoufa Moukoko's path to success did not come easily. Photo: Bundesliga Media Base
Youssoufa Moukoko's path to success did not come easily. Photo: Bundesliga Media Base

Moving in leaps and bounds to achieve his dreams

The first step of the young football prodigy’s dream began taking shape in northern Germany. At only 11 years old, he was already playing with the under-15 team of the Hamburg training program. He worked harder than ever and piled up the goals to become a regional sensation. His reputation began to attract the attention of the big teams of the Bundesliga, the first division. "We saw that he was coveted, and a few weeks after his arrival in Germany, Youssoufa was already being eyed by teams like Hamburg, Borussia Dortmund but also the great Bayern Munich," says his uncle and close adviser, Francois Nthiam.

"We had to protect him from all the attention and make choices for Youssoufa to have the best possible conditions. He always kept a cool head, never took things for granted, and I think that he already knew that his destiny would be to become an international football star."

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The following year, Yousouffa joined the Borussia Dortmund sports club, known for its training and policy of promoting young talents from all over the world. Youssoufa was a pre-adolescent and already in a hurry. He trained with the "under 15", then the "under 17" at only 12 and a half. His precocity drew a lot of media attention but the young player stayed concentrated.

"I played with a many of the best young people in the country, Youssoufa was always the most determined and hardworking of them all. He was extremely talented but he quickly understood that in order to succeed, it was necessary to work hard, all the time. When you are a phenomenon, you have a "target" on your back, and that can arouse the jealousy of others. He has always worked hard and he always had a mindset of being a winner and a hard worker. Today, he is harvesting the fruits," says Hans Zigger, his former teammate at the Borussia training center.

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The day of his 15th birthday, Yousouffa signed a €10 million contract with Nike, becoming the youngest player to sign a sponsorship contract with a sports brand. Moukoko fame continued to grow: In November 2000, at the age of 16, he became the youngest player in history to play in the German first division, and played 5 minutes against the Hertha BSC football club. "Everything happened quickly, and even if I dreamed of it, I did not think that it would happen so fast," Youssoufa told InfoMigrants. "I am living, the life I dreamed of but I am also aware that the best yet is to come, at all levels. I want to become one of the best players in the history of football."

After beginning his 2022-2023 season and scoring eight goals in the league career, Yousouffa managed to join the list of 26 players to compete for Germany in the World Cup.

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