Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani shares what it means for him to compete in European football's elite men's competition following a stunning rise to fame.
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As the UEFA Champions League gears up for its return, Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani reflects on a breakthrough group stage in which he lived out his childhood dreams.
Kolo Muani was a summer signing for Frankfurt, switching from Nantes in his native France to the UEFA Europa League holders, who, like him, are enjoying their first season in the Champions League.
Two goals at the expense of Sporting CP and Marseille helped his new club navigate a path through a testing group stage and set up a round of 16 date with Serie A pacesetters Napoli.
Looking back, the Paris-born forward admits he will always relish that first strike against Marseille on Matchday 5, proof that he had arrived on club football's biggest stage.
"It's the goal that matters to me – I relish that because it was my first Champions League goal," he says.
"That goal gave us three very important points; it doesn't matter that it's against Marseille and I'm from Paris. It's the first goal I scored in the Champions League. It brought something to the team, so to me it was really important to have scored."
And just how does it feel to make your mark at that level?
"It's incredible," smiles the 24-year-old. "Now I can say it's real. I am living in this moment. It's the present. So I just enjoy it and I value it.
"You can't really have your head in the clouds, you need to stay focused because everything goes really fast. The championship goes even faster and there are a lot of matches to play. I have mixed feelings, because while you do enjoy it, at the same time you tell yourself, 'There's another match in two days', so you need to be focused."
His club performances in the first half of the campaign earnt Kolo Muani a late call-up to the World Cup after making his debut for France in the UEFA Nations League in September. In Qatar, he caught the eye with his energetic displays as a substitute, setting up a goal and converting a spot kick in the final after netting in the semi.
Living the dream
This rapid rise to prominence is a long way from a childhood spent learning the game in the Parisian neighbourhood of Bondy, the same place that also nurtured fellow stars Kylian Mbappé, William Saliba and Jonathan Ikoné.
"It was the only thing I wanted to do with my life," Kolo Muani reflects. "I started football very young, when I was six. My parents supported me a lot and often came with me. It was my dream to play football.
"I played football at any given opportunity. Even if I could play at home on my own, I would. Ronaldo, then [Zinédine] Zidane and Ronaldinho were my favourite players. I watched lots of their videos. I watched what they were doing and then I tried to recreate it in my own style. I still do it with other players now. I try to improve in my own way."
Given his recent rapid progress, it would be no surprise to see Kolo Muani make an even bigger mark on the Champions League, like his heroes, but for now, he is delighted to be at European club football's top table.
For the good of the game
In total, UEFA reinvests over 97% of its revenue back into football, retaining just 2.3% of its total revenue on governing expenses.
Approximately two-thirds is distributed to the more than 200 clubs, like Eintracht Frankfurt, competing in UEFA men's club competitions. In addition, between 2020–2024, more than €1bn will be invested in football development projects across Europe.