Player bi­og­ra­phy

Kylian Mbappe

World Soccer - - Contents - Words: Howard John­son

If you’re look­ing for the game’s cur­rent great­est over­achiever, then look no fur­ther than Rafael Varane. Part of the France side that beat Croa­tia in Moscow in July, the 25-year-old added a World Cup-win­ner’s medal to an un­be­liev­able haul of four Cham­pi­ons League gongs. Yet de­spite Varane’s phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess, he is nowhere near as feted or fa­mous as his French team-mate Kylian Mbappe who, at the age of just 19, is un­doubt­edly the hottest prop­erty in world foot­ball to­day.

Mbappe may not have picked up as much sil­ver­ware as Varane but no one can doubt that he has al­ready won more hearts.

Hav­ing made his se­nior in­ter­na­tional de­but barely 18 months ago, the Paris-born striker is al­ready the player ev­ery young­ster dreams of

“Kylian has much more tal­ent than I have. Have you seen what he can do at his age? I never had that level of abil­ity” Paul Pogba

be­ing and ev­ery coach would love to sign.

His goal in the World Cup Fi­nal – a smart, right-foot drive be­yond Croa­tia keeper and for­mer Monaco team-mate Dani­jel Suba­sic – showed the world ev­ery­thing about Mbappe’s qual­i­ties. Re­ceiv­ing a pass from Lu­cas Her­nan­dez 25 yards from goal, he took the ball side on and then swiv­elled quickly, shift­ing the ball wider to cre­ate space away from de­fender Do­magoj Vida be­fore ri­fling a shot low into the left-hand corner of the net. Ev­ery­thing was done neatly, tidily and bril­liantly, with min­i­mum fuss and max­i­mum ef­fi­ciency.

Given the amount of tal­ent at French boss Di­dier Deschamp’s dis­posal, the fact that Mbappe started all seven World Cup games, scor­ing four goals, shows the es­teem in which the coach – who has now won the World Cup both as a player and as a boss – holds the Paris Saint-Ger­main for­ward.

Watch­ing Mbappe an­ni­hi­late an ex­pe­ri­enced Ar­gentina de­fence in France’s first match of the knock­out phase, a game in which he scored two goals, was one of the high­lights of the tour­na­ment. His elec­tric pace caused the South Amer­i­cans all sorts of prob­lems

and earned France their open­ing goal when a scin­til­lat­ing break from within his own half – timed at an as­ton­ish­ing 37 kilo­me­tres per hour – saw Mbappe un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously hauled down in the penalty area by Mar­cos Rojo for a spot kick that was duly con­verted by An­toine Griez­mann. For­mer Eng­land de­fender Rio Fer­di­nand joked that Mbappe’s pace was “il­le­gal” and claimed the only thing to do when fac­ing him is to pray.

“Against Bel­gium the rest of us were still get­ting warmed up,” ex­plained Griez­mann. “But af­ter just 20 sec­onds ‘Kiki’ [as Kylian is nick­named] was al­ready turn­ing on the af­ter­burn­ers. He’s the only one who can do that.”

But Mbappe is not just a speed­ster. For one so young his all-round game has a ma­tu­rity that even top-level pros find as­ton­ish­ing. “Kylian has much more tal­ent than I have,” says French mid­fielder Paul Pogba. “Have you seen what he can do at his age? I never had that level of abil­ity.”

This is praise in­deed for a young­ster with the world at his feet. But de­spite his ten­der age, Mbappe seems to han­dle the pres­sure of the world’s spot­light shin­ing on him with an in­cred­i­ble ma­tu­rity. Much of the credit for this must go to his par­ents, who’ve al­ways kept a watch­ful eye on the progress of their prodigy. It surely helps that both his mother and fa­ther have some per­sonal un­der­stand­ing of the world of high-level sport.

Kylian’s Cameroo­nian dad, Wil­fried Mbappe Lot­tin, played re­gional foot­ball in France be­fore be­com­ing coach of the un­der-15 side at AS Bondy, a club sit­u­ated in a sub­urb to the north­east of Paris. Born in Al­ge­ria, his mum, Fayza La­mari, was

a top-level hand­ball player at the same club. Dad now acts as Kylian’s agent with the help of a Parisian law firm, Ver­hey­den & Cog­nard.

“He’s got good peo­ple around him,” says for­mer Cameroon in­ter­na­tional Pa­trick Mboma, who played with Kylian’s dad at Bondy. “His par­ents both love sport and al­ways look to do what’s best for their son.”

As for the young­ster him­self, he ad­mits: “It’s no se­cret that you need a solid fam­ily be­hind you if you want to suc­ceed at the very high­est level.”

It’s per­haps a good thing that both par­ents have al­ways kept a watch­ful eye on their son. Never a tear­away, Kylian was nev­er­the­less a lit­tle too lively for his own good at school. At the age of 12 one of his teach­ers re­calls the young­ster get­ting eight writ­ten warn­ings in just eight hours of lessons. “But he was such a nice kid that I made sure he wasn’t ex­pelled,” re­calls his French teacher, Ni­cole Le­fevre.

It must have been hard for the young­ster to keep his feet on the ground, though. Hav­ing signed with AS Bondy at the age of nine, his prodi­gious tal­ent was soon recog­nised. “From an early age Kylian was phe­nom­e­nal, a me­te­orite,” says the club’s pres­i­dent, At­mane Airouche. “His pace and vi­sion were in­cred­i­ble.”

Europe’s big­gest clubs were quick to show in­ter­est in the young­ster and Mbappe even went to Lon­don to play in a trial match for Chelsea at the age of 11.

“We played a friendly against Charl­ton Ath­letic,” he re­calls. “It was my first ex­pe­ri­ence abroad and a chance to see what the game was like in Eng­land.”

In 2011 Mbappe was se­lected to at­tend the re­spected Na­tional In­sti­tute of Foot­ball at Clair­fontaine for two years, where he was courted by Caen, Monaco, Bordeaux, Paris Saint-Ger­main and Real Madrid, and for a long time it looked as if Caen would get his sig­na­ture. But in 2013 the 14-year-old signed for Monaco and joined the acad­emy just as the Prin­ci­pal­ity club was pro­moted back to the top flight of French foot­ball.

Mbappe’s progress at Monaco was noth­ing short of re­mark­able. Hav­ing been se­lected for the French un­der-17 side in Septem­ber 2014, he was scor­ing his first goals for Monaco’s re­serve side just over a year later.

Through­out his re­mark­able foot­balling as­cen­dancy, how­ever, he was still obliged to con­tinue with his school­ing, earn­ing his bac­calau­reat in busi­ness man­age­ment in Septem­ber 2016.

Mbappe made his first-team de­but at the end of 2015 in a 1-1 draw against Caen, com­ing off the bench to re­place Fabio Coen­trao in the 88th minute and be­com­ing the youngest player ever to wear the Monaco shirt in Ligue 1, aged 16 years and 11 months.

He took the record pre­vi­ously held by Thierry Henry – and it wasn’t long be­fore the new kid on the block had stolen an­other of the fu­ture Arse­nal star’s records, this time for the youngest player to score a league goal for Monaco, when he net­ted in ex­tra time against Troyes. And all of this was be­fore Mbappe had even signed his first pro­fes­sional con­tract.

Mbappe also helped Monaco’s un­der-19s win the pres­ti­gious Gam­bardella Cup in the sum­mer of 2016, scor­ing two goals against Lens, and then picked up the Euro­pean Un­der-19 Cham­pi­onship with France. Such was Mbappe’s im­pact that Manch­ester City of­fered Monaco

40m for him that sum­mer, a bid that

was im­me­di­ately re­jected. In Fe­bru­ary 2017 he showed City ex­actly what they were miss­ing when he scored against them in the Cham­pi­ons League.

The 2016-17 sea­son proved to be un­for­get­table for both Mbappe and Monaco as the club pipped Paris Saint-Ger­main to the Ligue 1 ti­tle. He scored 15 league goals and an im­pres­sive fur­ther five in the Cham­pi­ons League.

In a Monaco team blessed with prodi­gious tal­ent such as Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, Radamel Fal­cao and Ben­jamin Mendy, he nonethe­less ce­mented his rep­u­ta­tion as the most ex­cit­ing tal­ent of them all.

Deschamps gave him his first full in­ter­na­tional cap when he brought him off the bench in a World Cup qual­i­fier away against Lux­em­bourg in March 2017 and Mbappe went on to make 10 ap­pear­ances in to­tal dur­ing the rest of the cal­en­dar year, scor­ing his first in­ter­na­tional goal in a 4-0 win against Hol­land in an­other qual­i­fier.

“I don’t like com­par­ing play­ers,” said Thierry Henry. “Mbappe has to be­come Mbappe and no­body else. But wow, is he ever good! I re­ally like watch­ing him play.”

Spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing a po­ten­tial move for the 18-year-old reached fever pitch in the sum­mer of 2017, and on the last day of the French trans­fer win­dow it was an­nounced that he would join PSG.

The deal was an in­ter­est­ing one, with the player sign­ing for the cap­i­tal club on a year’s loan with an op­tion to buy and a price set at an eye-wa­ter­ing € 145m, plus add-ons. The pur­chase would be oblig­a­tory if PSG main­tained top-flight sta­tus and would make him the sec­ond­most ex­pen­sive player in foot­ball his­tory.

“It’s a dream for me to sign for PSG,” said Mbappe af­ter the deal was done. “The team plays at­tack­ing foot­ball and sign­ing here also means I can come back to Paris where I was born and where I grew up. PSG is the place where I can both progress on a per­sonal level and win tro­phies.”

The year ended on a per­sonal high as Mbappe came sev­enth in the vot­ing for the Bal­lon d’Or – the youngest player ever to make the top 10. Not only that, his 33rd goal of the cal­en­dar year earned him the ti­tle of top French goalscorer of the year.

If 2017 was the year of per­sonal achieve­ment, then 2018 proved to be the year when his teams reaped rich re­wards. PSG claimed the League Cup with a 3-0 vic­tory over Mbappe’s pre­vi­ous team, Monaco, in which he was named man of the match. He also picked up a sec­ond Ligue 1 win­ner’s medal and played in the PSG side that won the French Cup. Not bad for a first sea­son back in his home­town.

Of course, all of these im­pres­sive

“I don’t like com­par­ing play­ers. Mbappe has to be­come Mbappe and no­body else. But wow, is he ever good! I re­ally like watch­ing him play” Thierry Henry

achieve­ments were then eclipsed by the ex­ploits of the French na­tional side as they brought home a sec­ond World Cup from Rus­sia.

Al­most in­evitably, Mbappe was named the best young player in the tour­na­ment.

“I can’t de­scribe how proud I am to have won the World Cup,” he said. “I’ve re­alised a boy­hood dream and to have made the en­tire French na­tion so happy? Well, I can’t put a price on that.”

Mbappe has in­stantly be­come the sym­bol of a new French spirit: young, dy­namic, un­afraid. The coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, was clearly moved by the World Cup vic­tory, and by Mbappe in par­tic­u­lar – so much so that Macron in­stinc­tively kissed the young­ster on the head when he was part of the of­fi­cial del­e­ga­tion that pre­sented the tro­phy to the team in Moscow.

“Be­fore we left for Rus­sia he asked us to bring back a sec­ond star for France,” laughs Mbappe. “Well, we ended up bring­ing the tro­phy back and tak­ing it to his of­fice, so I think we did OK.”

Mbappe’s short ca­reer re­ally is the stuff of fairy tales for one so young. But there are still plenty of tar­gets for this most spe­cial of play­ers. Win­ning the Cham­pi­ons League with his club and a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship with his coun­try, for starters. And then there’s the chal­lenge of win­ning in­di­vid­ual honours as World Player of the Year.

With the era of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Lionel Messi draw­ing to a close, it’s not at all be­yond the realms of pos­si­bil­ity that this young, ami­able and unas­sum­ing French­man might get his hands on that ac­co­lade sooner rather than later.

He may be called “Donatello” by his team-mates be­cause of his re­sem­blance to the Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tle, but surely he is much more like an­other car­toon hero: Su­per­man.

Too quick...go­ing past Kevin De Bruyne of Bel­gium in Rus­sia

AS Bondy...where it all started

Cham­pi­ons...on his way to win­ning the 2017 ti­tle with Monaco

The best...French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron con­grat­u­lates him on win­ning FIFA’s Young Player Award at the World Cup

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