Forward | PSG | France
Do you really need one? Mbappe is not even yet 21 but has already transcended football and is now appearing on the front cover of Time magazine. He was already causing a buzz as a kid, invited to play in a Chelsea academy match at the age of 11 and courted by the Blues and by Real Madrid at 14. He made his Monaco debut at 16 and provided an assist against Tottenham a week later on his European competition debut. He scored his first pro goal at 17 and, two years above his age group, starred with five goals as France U19s won the European Championship.
In his first full season at Monaco Mbappe weighed in with 15 goals and 11 assists as ASM won the Ligue 1 title from PSG. He also scored six goals in six knock-out matches (the first player to score in his first four Champions League knock-out matches and the youngest player to score five Champions League goals) as Monaco reached the Champions League semi-final.
He became the second youngest France debutant in history before securing a move to PSG, making him the second most expensive player in history. His trophy cabinet already includes a World Cup, two Ligue 1 titles, one Coupe de France, one Coupe de la Ligue, one Trophée des Champions, one U19 European Championship, one Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award, one Raymond Kopa Award and a Ballon d’Or third place.
Did we mention that Mbappe is not yet 21? He can pretty much do it all. He is Road-Runner-quick, but not in an aimless, Walcotty way: he is comfortable with both feet, has all the skills and uses them productively to beat his man, has an accurate, powerful shot, has great vision and an eye for a pass (close to 60 career assists already). He is also polite and eloquent (often teased for the archaic language he uses in post-match interviews) and seems to have a good family team around him to keep him grounded. He has the world at his feet. And he isn’t even 21 yet!
2018 has been…
... monstrous. Arguably, by the ridiculous standards that he has already set for himself, the first six months or so were relatively disappointing. Five goals and no assists in the second half of the 2017/18 season suggested that he still wasn’t entirely comfortable playing in a slightly wider role than at Monaco, and he still tended to seem a little star-struck by Neymar, always looking for his fellow attacker rather than showing the confidence to take the ball on himself.
Then the World Cup happened. The Group Stage goal nicked off Giroud against Peru settled nerves, before a frightening second round performance against Argentina, symbolically knocking out Messi, ensured that anyone who hadn’t already heard of Mbappe now had. His pitch-length sprint to win Les Bleus’ penalty, followed by two goals of his own, the first created for himself with a blink-and-you-miss-it control and turn, changed his stature on the world stage.
Another virtuoso performance in the semi-final, one pirouetted through-ball to Giroud the highlight, followed by a goal in the final to make him the youngest World Cup final scorer since Pele, ensured that he could now be mentioned in the same breath as Neymar, Messi and Cristiano.
And off the back of the World Cup, his 2018/19 season so far has seen a huge improvement. His 12 goals and six assists in Ligue 1 put him at least level with Neymar in the superstar stakes, and his three goals and four assists helped PSG top a very tough Champions League group. He also ended 2018 as Les Bleus’ top scorer, with nine goals.
He could do more to help out in defence when played on the right; he still tends to ignore Cavani in favour of Neymar; and play-acting is creeping a little too much into his game. But other than that it’s very hard to find any fault.
Mbappe turned 20 this week and will be rid of all the “first teenager [since Pele] to…” headlines which, by all accounts, annoy him. But if he continues on his trajectory, the records could keep tumbling. At 20 he has already achieved more than most footballers achieve in a career and, as clichéd as it sounds, the sky is the limit.
As long as he keeps up the learning curve and the workrate and doesn’t fall into complacency, he could improve on this year’s third place to become a multiple Ballon d’Or winner and, with the right players around him, a serial trophy winner for club and maybe also country. An intelligent boy with his head on his shoulders (albeit with a growing tendency for showbiz dives and flounces), his off-pitch marketability is huge too. He should be replacing Messi and Ronaldo as the next megastar.
A - He’s in his own league, and he’s not even 21 yet!