As Didier Deschamps plots another World Cup title tilt with France, Kylian Mbappe, who was not even born when his coach lifted the trophy in 1998, has become an indispensable figure for Les Bleus. It was only two-and-a-half years ago that the teenager made his professional debut, but the rise of Mbappe the second-most expensive player in history has been meteoric. After winning successive French league crowns with Monaco and then Paris Saint-Germain, the 19 year-old announced himself on the global stage by knocking Lionel Messi’s Argentina out of the last 16 in Russia. With Cristiano Ronaldo, a childhood hero of Mbappe’s, crashing out of the competition on the same day with Portugal, it felt like a passing of the torch to a new generation.
Mbappe’s breathtaking acceleration and steely composure were used to devastating effect as he became the first teenager since Pele 60 years ago to score at least twice in a World Cup match. “I gave Kylian a new nickname, it’s 37, because he reached a peak of 37km/h (kilometres per hour) against Argentina,” said France teammate Florian Thauvin. To put his searing speed into context, triple Olympic 100-metre champion Usain Bolt’s career peak was clocked at 44.72 km/h during his world record run at the 2009 world championships. And while Mbappe may be the game’s new superstar, the French teenage sensation is not forgetting his roots. According to L’Equipe, he has promised to donate his World Cup bonus to organize sporting initiatives for children in hospital.
He will likely find a robust Uruguay defence far less charitable, but former France defender Lilian Thuram expects Mbappe to thrive on the challenge. “He is young, and young players really enjoy themselves when the standard of the opposition increases,” said Thuram. France great Thierry Henry, who followed a similar trajectory to the top as Mbappe, cited the latter’s intelligence as the driving force behind his success. “When I watch him dribble, he’s thinking,” Henry said in an interview with Canal+. “There’s something that gets me going and saddens me at times. We often speak of a player and say: ‘He’s fast, he’s tough, he jumps high’, but we never speak about a player’s brain. “He thinks when he plays, and that for me is the most important thing in a player, he uses his brain,” says Henry.
“It’s the sign of a guy who can go very far.” Ludovic Batelli, coach of the France team that won the Under-19 European Championship in 2016, said Mbappe had a rare level of maturity for someone so young. “He has this clear-headedness, this sangfroid in front of goal which is the mark of great goalscorers,” said Batelli. “It’s often acquired more in the second part of one’s career. He has it at a very, very young age. It’s what is going to allow him to become a future great.” Mbappe scored 21 goals in his first season in Paris after joining the club in a monumental deal worth an eventual 180 million euros ($210 million).
Paul Pogba, one of the cornerstones of the current France side, said Mbappe has only just scratched the surface of what he is capable of achieving. “He’s got a lot more talent than me,” Pogba said of Mbappe. “And he’s not going to stop there. He’s got so much talent.”