Malick Thiaw (FC Schalke 04) and Youssoufa Moukoko (Borussia Dortmund) are the youngest players in Germany’s U21s squad for the European Championship. The 19-year-old defender and 16-year-old striker both spoke to DFB.de about their first days with the national side, the special atmosphere within the team and their club rivalry.
DFB.de: Youssoufa Moukoko and Malick Thiaw, these last few days have been your first with the U21s. How have you both been settling in?
Malick Thiaw: Very well. All the lads are really nice and they’ve fully accepted me.
Youssoufa Moukoko: I can only second that. The atmosphere within the squad is great and the team is doing all they can to make us new players feel welcome.
DFB.de: You two are the youngest players in the Germany squad. Has it felt like that for both of you?
Thiaw: In club football, I’ve often noticed that the youngest players often ask a lot of questions and look to learn a lot from the more experienced guys. That’s different here because there isn’t such a huge age gap. The fact that we are the youngest doesn’t really play a huge role.
DFB.de: Malick Thiaw, this is your first full professional season for Schalke and now you’ve been called up to the national side. How have your past few months been?
Thiaw: That’s hard to say. Things haven’t gone well with my club and we’re in a really difficult situation right now, so I can’t say the last few months have been very good for me. You want to be successful both as a player and as a team. Nevertheless, things have gone quite well for me personally. I’ve played a lot of football and put in some good performances. Being called up for the U21 Euros as a result made me naturally really happy.
DFB.de: What was your first reaction when you found out you had been called up? It came as a surprise for some people.
Thiaw: I was already in contact with the coach before the squad was announced, so I already had some hopes. I reckoned I had a 50-50 chance of making it. I was really pleased when the call actually came.
DFB.de: How was it for you, Youssoufa Moukoko?
Moukoko: I also spoke to the coach before the squad announcement. He already gave me a few signals to suggest I would be involved. I was full of joy when I found out.
DFB.de: What else did you speak to Stefan Kuntz about?
Moukoko: He told me how he wants to play, what we expects from his players and that there is a great atmosphere among the squad. After knowing this, I knew for sure that I was really excited for the U21s. This is the highest level you can play at in Germany after the Bundesliga and the senior side.
DFB.de: You have already played for several Germany youth sides, most recently the U20s. Have you noticed any differences in the U21s?
Moukoko: All the players are a bit more mature here and everyone has already experienced the Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2. The tempo is higher too, but that’s no problem for me as I’m used to it from Dortmund.
DFB.de: Malick Thiaw, it’s your first taste of life with the national team. Have you been able to get used to how things work yet?
Thiaw: Football is football. The basics are always the same. Obviously a few things here are different and new for me. I’ve had to find my way a bit, but I’m getting there.
DFB.de: What can you learn here?
Thiaw: Lads from different playing levels come together here – sometimes from different international leagues too. Everyone brings something different so we can pick up something from everyone else here. The same goes for the coaches. What tactics do they want to play with and what do they expect from the players in each position? I think we can learn a lot here.
Moukoko: Whether it’s as a person or as an athlete, I take something with me every day. The unity here is something special.
DFB.de: The coach has been using the motto "special times, special team”. What makes the U21s special for you?
Thiaw: Based on first impressions, it’s the togetherness that we have, but I also find the mix of hard graft and relaxation impressive. We have fun together, on and off the pitch, but when it comes down to business everyone is fully focused.
Moukoko: I think it’s great that the coaches join in the fun with us. That gives me the feeling that I can be myself and it takes the pressure off even though we are playing in the Euros.
DFB.de: 3-0 against Hungary - it was a successful, convincing start for the team. How is the atmosphere around the squad?
Moukoko: The atmosphere is really good. The win against Hungary has filled the team with confidence. We know that if we win against the Netherlands then we are through. That’s driving us all on.
DFB.de: What are your expectations for the Euros?
Moukoko: I always want to achieve the maximum possible. First of all, that means reaching the final rounds. Personally, I want to play to my highest level and mix it with the best players. That’s what motivates me. My motto is that nothing happens by chance, only through training.
Thiaw: The aim is to get as far as possible with the team and contribute as much as possible on a personal level. I want to try and get playing time. The only thing that matters in the group stage is that we progress, preferably in first place.
DFB.de: The game against Netherlands will be decisive for that. What do you expect from it?
Moukoko: The Netherlands will definitely put us under a lot of pressure, but it’s up to us to withstand it. If we can do that then I’m optimistic.
DFB.de: Finally, you play for Schalke and Borussia Dortmund. Is there a special rivalry between the two of you?
Thiaw: We’ve already played against one another quite often for our youth teams. Sometimes we won, sometimes they did. Unfortunately I have to admit that he scored quite a few goals. (laughs) But that’s what you expect from him.
Moukoko: There’s only a rivalry on the pitch. Everyone fights hard for three points but after that we are good friends.