Moussa Dembele: Swapping PSG for Fulham and making his mark

By Rob StevensBBC Sport
Moussa Dembele
Moussa Dembele's form for Fulham in October earned him the Football League's Young Player of the Month award

When French striker Moussa Dembele swapped Paris St-Germain for Fulham's youth academy in summer 2012, a few eyebrows were raised.

But the west London club, then in the Premier League, knew they were on to something special.

"When Moussa was 16 there was no doubt he possessed all the raw ingredients you look for in a striker," Fulham academy director Huw Jennings told BBC Sport.

"He's got pace and power, he can finish, use both feet and he is good in the air. He has got good intelligence.

"What stood out for me was not only what you could see on the pitch but I felt a calmness and assuredness off the pitch.

"It is not easy coming across from a foreign country at a young age and the thing Moussa has had to demonstrate more than any others is resilience."

The 19-year-old's promise is starting to be realised - he has been named as the Football League's Young Player of the Month for October.

Taking his chance

Dembele's hero growing up was Brazil forward Ronaldinho but, despite spending eight years in the youth ranks at PSG, he felt his future lay away from the Parc des Princes after Qatari investors took over the Ligue 1 club.

The teenager has had to be patient while waiting for a regular place in Fulham's first XI, starting just three league games before this season, but he has been an ever-present for the Cottagers since late August.

His run in the side was rewarded with five goals in three games in October. Starting with a solo effort in the draw with Leeds, Dembele then hit braces in Fulham's victories over Reading and Bristol City.

Moussa Dembele
Dembele has struck up an impressive partnership with Ross McCormack at Craven Cottage

"I thought that I would get my chance at Fulham," Dembele told BBC Sport.

"For a young player it is good to have a run in the first team and know that people around you believe in you. That's what happened and I took my chances."

2015-16 Young Player award winners
August: Ryan Fraser (Ipswich, on loan from Bournemouth)
September: Rico Henry (Walsall)
October: Moussa Dembele (Fulham)

'We need to keep our heads up'

While coming through the Fulham academy, Dembele has been a regular for France at youth international level, featuring from every age group from the under-16s and making his debut for the under-20s this season.

He was in France with the U20s, preparing for a game against England, when the news of the Paris attacks in which 130 people died broke.

"We were watching the France-Germany game, we changed the channel and we saw it," he said. "Everyone was shocked about what happened and couldn't believe it - but it was true. Straight away I called my family to check everyone was safe."

Dembele has been impressed with how football has reacted to the events, particularly the mass singing of the French national anthem La Marseillaise at Wembley before Tuesday's England-France friendly.

"All the country was devastated," Dembele, who was born in the Pontoise suburb of the French capital, added.

"It is very hard for us, but it is life. We need to keep our heads up.

"It was good solidarity from the Football Association and the English people. They reacted well and it was kind of them to do what they did."

A departed mentor

One man who played a role in Dembele's development at Fulham was Kit Symons, who coached him in the youth ranks and integrated him into the first-team squad after being appointed manager in September 2014.

"My time in the academy was very good. That's why I am where I am today," Dembele said.

"I knew Kit for a long time, from the under-21s to the first team. He gave all the young players good advice to learn the game quickly and progress."

Kit Symons
Kit Symons worked with Dembele at under-21 and first-team level, but was sacked by Fulham this month

Symons was sacked by Fulham earlier this month, leaving Dembele with another challenge - to impress whomever replaces the Welshman.

"Kit was very important in Moussa's development," Jennings added.

"He was an excellent mentor to many of the young players in the academy, but his era is finished. Everyone has to move on and that is the reality in football.

"At the moment it is a transition period for the club. Now it is Moussa's responsibility to impress a new team of people coming in who will hopefully see his talents in the same way Kit did."

Fulham, who are currently 12th in the Championship and travel to MK Dons on Saturday, are keen to tie Dembele to a longer deal, while the player himself is eager to make sure he builds on winning the Football League's award.

"I feel very happy to win this trophy but it is just the beginning," he said. "I am still young and still learning the game. I need to keep going, keep producing what I am doing and keep impressing everyone.

"Hopefully there is more to come."

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