The dramatic music played, the curtains opened and there they were in Paris on Tuesday night: Pele and Kylian Mbappe.
Cameras clicked furiously as two of football’s biggest names sat side by side. Even Mbappe was struggling to get his head around this most unusual of events. “I keep touching him to make sure he’s real,” the Frenchman smiled as he glanced at Pele, clearly in awe of the 78-year-old.
FourFourTwo had been invited to the swanky Hotel Lutetia in central Paris, a few hundred yards from the Louvre, to witness this meeting of the man many regard as the greatest footballer of all time, and the 20-year-old who’s tipped to be the greatest player of his generation.
Organised by Swiss watchmakers Hublot, who have partnership deals with both men, it understandably drew quite a French media presence, together with journalists from Germany and even Moscow.
Mbappe’s father and teenage brother proudly took their seats in the front row as co-host Pedro Pinto introduced proceedings, before the two stars of the evening were unveiled.
“It’s my pleasure to be here,” Pele beamed, arriving as part of a week-long stay in the French capital.
Mbappe’s excitement was written all over his face. “Football has given me the opportunity to realise dreams that seemed impossible to realise when I was a child,” the Paris Saint-Germain star explained. “Meeting Pele was one of them, because he’s the icon of football. Meeting him is absolutely fantastic.”
The admiration was mutual – Pele clearly liked what he saw as Mbappe helped France to World Cup glory last summer. “It’s the way he changes his game, he’s unpredictable,” the Brazilian explained. “Several players are good technically, but they are predictable throughout a game. Mbappe has this key strength.”
Mbappe became only the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final nine months ago, after a 17-year-old Pele had netted twice against Sweden in 1958.
“Pele was the first one but I don’t mind being just behind him,” Mbappe smiled. “I knew before the final that if I had the opportunity to score, I would make history again. It was a dream to win the World Cup. It’s the highest achievement in football.”
The Frenchman still has another two World Cup triumphs to go before matching Pele’s feats, though. “I’ll try,” he grinned. “It’s already excellent to win one World Cup, but the next objective is to carry on, not just to sit there. We have incredible potential, our team can do wonderful things.”
But Pele knows that repeating success will not be easy, both individually and collectively. “It’s more difficult to achieve things when people know you already,” he said. “When the defenders know your game, things become difficult. My second World Cup was difficult too, because I had a problem with my knee.
“Mbappe said that he will prepare to win the next World Cup. He should know that Brazil are going to do the same!” Pele added, bursting into laughter.
Mbappe is now firmly in the spotlight, known by all as one of the best players in the world. “That pressure drives me,” he admits. “The higher you go, the more the requirements are.
“I’m not too sure what it is to be a star, because I don’t think that’s what I am so far. But of course I have responsibilities now, especially as an example to children. When I was a kid I was watching my idols, doing what kids are doing now with me.”
For Pele growing up, he had one idol and one idol only. “In my time we didn’t have the information there is now with television and radio,” he explained. “But my dad was a football player and he scored four or five goals with his head during one game. As a kid, I just wanted to be like my father – that was the maximum that I dreamed.”
As it turned out, he went far beyond that, notching well over 1,000 goals. Mbappe was asked if he could one day reach that sort of figure. “Yeah, it’s possible – if you count all the goals I score while playing PlayStation!” he laughed. “Even adding the goals I score in training it will be difficult, but I’ll do my best...”
Mbappe does indeed have some way to go to get anywhere near matching Pele’s remarkable feats, but in nearly half an hour on stage, a bond was established between a legend of the game, and maybe a legend in waiting.
If Mbappe continues his progress at the current rate, we may just have witnessed a meeting of two of football’s true greats.
Read exclusive quotes from Pele in the next issue of FourFourTwo, out on May 1
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