Time is ticking away and the World Cup is looming large. Not exactly the moment, you might think, for Germany or any of the other qualified sides to call up a debutant. This one, however, is different – young he may be, but callow he isn’t, and he is arriving at the forefront of Hansi Flick’s mind at the perfect moment. Like most of the runs he makes in the yellow of Borussia Dortmund as autumn turns to winter, it appears as if Youssoufa Moukoko has timed this just right.
There are many remarkable things about the 17-year-old striker, not least that he has had to be patient to arrive at this point at which he is one of the first names on Edin Terzic’s team sheet. Yet now, as not only his talent but how vital he is to Dortmund in the here and now becomes unquestionable, the stars are aligning for him.
It was not just that Moukoko spent Saturday afternoon scoring twice in the 3-0 win over Bochum (“It always tastes better in a derby,” he said, judging the moment and the mood so well as he often does), but the way in which he did it. His finishes were typically full of conviction – a lusty sweep of the trusty left foot, followed by a canny chip over the wandering Bochum goalkeeper, Manuel Riemann, for the second with his weaker right, both from outside the area – and spoke of ability, form and confidence all combined.
Much of Germany’s media and supporters are already convinced. “Hansi Flick has to take Moukoko to the World Cup,” the Bild commentator Corni Küpper said with some insistence after the teenager’s latest display. Meanwhile Kicker’s customary question of the week is whether Moukoko or Werder Bremen’s Niclas Füllkrug, the Bundesliga’s top scorer who netted again in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Schalke, should be called up. With Timo Werner ruled out in midweek, it is not out of the question that both players get on the flight to Doha.
While Füllkrug’s candidature has become a cause célèbre, Moukoko’s is conversely less romantic, but pragmatic. He is utterly convincing via either the numbers angle or the eye test. His opening goal made him the youngest player to reach double figures in the Bundesliga, and by a distance (the previous record holder, Florian Wirtz, hit the mark at 18 years and 145 days, while Moukoko doesn’t turn 18 for another two weeks), but it feels almost like trivia in the context of his overall brilliance.
“He’s made a huge step forward,” said a beaming Terzic, while BVB’s sporting director, Sebastian Kehl, spoke glowingly about the teenager “developing his overall package.” That much has been apparent since the moment he wrested the starting centre-forward berth from the new signing Anthony Modeste a month ago for the Champions League trip to Sevilla.
Not all of Dortmund’s issues were solved, of course, but one major problem went away at a stroke. If the concern had been that Moukoko couldn’t function as a target man like Modeste, being about 10cm shorter than him, then his ability to link, move and mesh with his teammates in the house style was far superior. Without scoring in Andalucía, Moukoko made it clear this was his spot in the XI.
Among the many elements that mark Moukoko out as special is his ability to lift those around him up a little bit higher. He did so in Der Klassiker, calling on Signal Iduna Park’s main stand to rain praise down on Modeste, a player twice his age whom he had deposed from the XI but who had netted BVB a last-gasp equaliser – realising that this was the older man’s moment, and he needed the love of the crowd after a difficult adaptation since arriving. Having given a leg up to his apparent competition, he may be able to do the same for his coach.
There are still many doubts about Dortmund, with lots of individual quality but very little discernible style of play. There is a growing feeling that even though Terzic is well-liked at the club, he may not be the long-term solution. Yet Moukoko couldn’t be clearer with words or actions about clicking with his coach.
“I have Edin’s trust,” he emphasised, responding to a question on whether he will extend a contract that expires at the end of the season. Part of the reason he hasn’t yet signed again – and looked as if he would leave last season, such was the frustration under Marco Rose – is he wanted game-time guarantees. He appears to have that under a coach he loves – and could help stay in the job.
In the meantime, the Germany dream is on. Moukoko spoke to Flick on Thursday, exactly a week before the coach announces his squad for Qatar. “He said that I should just keep going,” he revealed, “that they watch everything and in the end those who perform will be there.” On this basis, it’s hard to see how Flick could leave him behind.
• Bayern are on top after a 3-2 win over Hertha which should have been more comfortable. They led by three late in the first half, only for quickfire goals from Dodi Lukebakio and Davie Selke (with a penalty) to reignite the contest. It was the Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting show all over again: after Jamal Musiala tucked in a neat opener, the Cameroon striker scored twice, hitting the net for the seventh game in a row. Bild noted on Sunday he is scoring every 70 minutes this season, compared to every 82 for Robert Lewandowski at Barcelona. “We would like to keep him,” Hasan Salihamidžić told Sky 90, with Choupo-Moting out of contract at the season’s end.
• The Rekordmeister stayed at the summit thanks to Leverkusen’s emphatic win over Union on Sunday. It was goalless at half-time before the former Köpenicker Robert Andrich’s deft finish from a corner just after the interval prompted a goal avalanche as Die Werkself hit five in half an hour. It was a hint of what the club hope their new head coach, Xabi Alonso, can bring to the party. Mitchell Bakker, who was outstanding at wing-back and scored the fifth, credited the coach’s half-time team talk. “He told us: ‘Get angry when you look at the table,’ and that if we kept going, the chances would come,” said the Dutchman. Leverkusen are now out of the bottom three.
• Freiburg move up to second after a 2-0 win over Köln in Saturday’s late game, where their initial profligacy was covered by an eighth clean sheet of the season. Having topped their Europa League group, they have done well to get through an uncommonly hectic campaign so far largely unscathed. “We still want to play,” said Christian Streich, “but I’ll be glad for next Sunday when we can take a deep breath.”
• Leipzig are on the heels of the top four, completing a great week with a 3-1 win at Hoffenheim thanks to two more from Christopher Nkunku – the first a stunning free-kick. “He is a difference maker with exceptional qualities,” said Marco Rose after the Frenchman’s goals took him past Timo Werner for the most Bundesliga goals ever scored by a Leipzig player in a calendar year (24).