HE’S THE MAN
He’s no longer a teenager with promise. Having turned 20 in December, Kylian Mbappe is now a man that has rightly taken his place amongst the world’s best footballers. The Paris Saint-Germain striker had an incredible 2018, winning the World Cup with France and becoming only the second teenager in history to score in the final. The other was Pele, by the way, and the Brazilian has tipped the Frenchman to be his successor in the pantheon of footballing legends. But Kylian has many years ahead of him. So how will he be remembered? As one of the all-time greats or as a young player who had the world at his feet that never again hit the heights his early years suggested he would? Currently it looks like the former. He’s already had tough decisions to make in his short time at the top and he’s done the right thing. He’s shown a level of calm way beyond his years and he’s done more than many do in a long career. He seems to have his head screwed on, but the next few years will really show his true character. But first let’s look back and remember some of his incredible achievements. Mbappe made his debut for Monaco at 16 and for France at 18. In his first full season at Monaco (2016-17) he scored a total of 24 goals, including three hat-tricks, and led from the front in tandem with Radamel Falco in a season that saw the team from the Principality top Ligue 1 and excel in the Champions League. Having made the move to PSG he won the League again in his second full season at the top level in France, going on to star for Les Bleus in last summer’s World Cup. During the tournament he hit the back of the net four times, including two in the final against Croatia. And it wasn’t just his goals that made him stand out on the world’s stage, it was his movement, his ability and the way he terrorised defences. His performance against Argentina in the Round of 16 – where he also claimed a brace – showed he should rightly be thought of as amongst the world’s best. And come the voting for the Ballon d’Or at the end of the year, he did take his place amongst the best in the world. The Frenchman came fourth in the most important vote in football, behind Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Crucially he finished above Lionel Messi and his PSG teammate Neymar. Of course, he won the Kopa Trophy for the best young player. To do what he’s done in his fledgling career is remarkable. But let’s go back to his strength of mind. He moved to PSG at an incredibly young age, 18, for an incredibly big fee, £128m after an initial loan. But he knew it was the right move for him and his career. He’d come through the ranks at Monaco and they had trusted him to blood him at such a young age, but it was the right time to kick on. And it’s since proved the correct decision. PSG was the club the Parisian supported as a boy and it was a dream come true to sign for them. Mbappe is now playing for the best side in the country and a consistent Champions League contender. Paris has been the right place for his development, and it continues to be, but it may not be in the long term. If they don’t finally achieve their aim of Champions League glory, he may have to move elsewhere, and even if they do, a move could be in the offing. The problem for PSG and for Mbappe is that the French top flight still isn’t at the same level as other European Leagues. By playing the dominant force in France every season he’s hitting a plateau and it’s only the latter stages of the Champions League that becomes a real test – that’s a handful of games every season. He needs to be somewhere where’s he’s tested week-in-week-out. England? Maybe. Spain? More likely. He’s made no secret of his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo. Watch some of his goals from his time in the youth ranks at Monaco and you’ll see him emulating the Portuguese’s famous celebration. And just like Ronaldo, a move to Madrid could be exactly what he needs to truly become the best in the world. The move would make sense for him and it would definitely make sense for Madrid as they continue to struggle to replace their former No. 7. This summer may come too early, but it would be no surprise to see Mbappe in the famous white shirt by the time he comes back from Euro 2020 with France. But why? Shouldn’t he be happy turning out for his boyhood club every week and scooping up title after title in his homeland? Let’s look at the problems that any footballers face. Staying at the top is incredibly difficult. The game is littered with players that hit the heights for two or three seasons and then fade into obscurity. Think of Robinho, Adriano, even Michael Owen. Those that do continue to play at the top level season after season need to have the desire and mental strength to keep improving and to keep tailoring their game to meet new challenges. Think Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Zinedine Zidane. He may well have the desire, but the question remains whether PSG is the place to give him that challenge. It seems that Neymar has gone backwards since his move to France and is further away than ever in his quest to win the Ballon d’Or. If Mbappe keeps challenging himself, who knows how far he can go. His signing would also be a safe bet for the club that comes in for him. One thing that can’t be denied is that it will be for big money, likely a world record fee. Mbappe has faced this before, with the size of the transfer to PSG. He’s shown that he can cope with the price tag and revels in the pressure that it brings. That will instantly inspire confidence in whichever top tier club comes in for him. He works hard and he doesn’t seem to believe his own hype in the way that Neymar does. He gets his head down and he’s willing to learn and improve. He struggled slightly his early days at PSG, being stationed more on the right flank, but he was able to adapt his game and learn how to link up his new teammates, especially central striker Edinson Cavani. We know the stats. We’ve seen the goals. We’ve read the headlines. What happens next and how far he can go is down to one man. Mbappe. And we’re betting we’ll long remember the name for all the right reasons when his illustrious career finally does come to an end.