FFT100 2018: No.3, Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
He only reached the end of his teens at the end of a stellar 2018, and plenty are still pinching themselves at just how much Kylian Mbappe has already achieved. Not the man himself, though.
“I knew I wanted to do this since I was four years old,” he said in a television interview in April 2017, just before Monaco’s Champions League semi-final with Juventus, referencing his first memories of visiting local club AS Bondy where his father Wilfried played and coached.
Whatever comes next for Mbappe, this year will always be special. In his own smooth way – he shares something in his effortless manner with fellow Monaco product Thierry Henry – he grabbed 2018’s World Cup by the throat.
His winner against Peru in the group stage made him the youngest Frenchman to score at a World Cup, and then he twice emulated Pele’s high watermarks: Mbappe became the second teenager to score twice in a World Cup match with his brace against Argentina, then the second teenager after the great Brazilian to score in a final.
It wasn’t as much about the records, though, as it was about the style. The craft of his finishing, his all-round implication in Les Bleus’ play and his clear-headed vision of the game simply wasn’t like another 19-year-old you might care to recall. His goals against Argentina set an already-smouldering tournament alight, but the enduring image of that game is the searing run from inside his own half – an electrifying passage of play in which he scorched four players – which culminated in a 13th-minute penalty for Antoine Griezmann to convert.
In an age where fans are rarely blindsided by young talent, having access to leagues from all across the world, Mbappe astounded the watching millions and became a new household name for armchair fans across the globe.
There was never a question about whether he would receive the tournament’s Best Young Player award, but it seemed almost reductive given the size of his talent and influence. His goal to clinch a tricky final against Croatia said it all: 25 yards out, few players would have seen that there was a shot on. He took it early and with precision, giving Danijel Subasic no chance.
Such were his achievements in Russia that a very satisfactory ending to his first season with Paris Saint-Germain might almost go unnoticed. After a disappointing Champions League elimination by his boyhood heroes Real Madrid, PSG and Mbappe went on to lift the domestic treble, and there was legitimate conversation over whether the team’s extraordinary front three of Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar could surpass the Brazilian’s erstwhile combination with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as the greatest of the modern game.
By the end of the season, any suggestion that Mbappe was ‘just’ a speed merchant and finisher had gone out of the window, with his ability to create now fully flourished.
In 2018/19, his level of understanding with Neymar has led to mischievous suggestions that the pair have excluded Cavani from their clique. In reality, they are simply on a different technical level to one of the game’s great No.9s.
Yet while in public Mbappe might be keeping the peace by suggesting Neymar is the main man, he’s fooling nobody. Starting this season at a scoring rate of more than a goal per game, he’s the one who PSG look to in the biggest moments. He cracked open Le Classique at Marseille and scored four goals in 14 minutes to obliterate Lyon, the second-best team in Ligue 1.
Speculation will continue to link him with Real Madrid, but it isn’t a formality – simply because Mbappe does everything exactly on his own terms, and with so little fuss. Somehow, an €180 million price tag looks very light on these young shoulders.