Kylian Mbappe: When you cross Henry with Real Ronaldo

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Kylian Mbappe. Possibly the best player in the world and already beloved of John Nicholson and others…

 

Who’s this then?
Kyllian Mbappe is a 22-year-old Parisian forward who plays for Paris St Germain and scored a hat-trick this week against Barcelona. Widely regarded as one of the best players on the planet right now, he’s busy writing himself into the record books.

Remarkably, his professional career is only in its sixth season. As a kid he played for AS Bondy and even went to Chelsea aged 14 in 2012 and played in a youth team game against Charlton. Whether the Blues let a brilliant player slip through their fingers or the player didn’t fancy west London is unclear, but he eventually signed for Monaco in 2015.

Initially he turned out for Monaco II in 2015-16, for whom he played 12 games, scoring four times before being elevated to the first team. His first full season was the remarkable title-winning 2016-2017 campaign which saw him leading Monaco’s attack with 26 goals in 44 games.

His speed and direct attacking style brought him to the world’s attention and more specifically PSG’s. In 2017, he signed for Paris Saint-Germain on an initial loan, which was made permanent in 2018 in a transfer worth €180 million, making him both the second-most expensive player and most expensive teenager ever. Quite how and why PSG could both make and afford such a fee opens a rather sulphurous Pandora’s Box, but our purpose here is to celebrate the player, which is just as well as the politics is, frankly, appalling.

He’s already picked up a World Cup winner’s medal, an Under-19 European Championship win, three league titles, half a dozen cups and a Champions League runners-up medal as well as 39 caps and 16 goals for his country.

With 111 goals in just 153 games for PSG and 142 strikes in 225 games overall with 24 in the Champions League he’s breaking all sorts of goalscoring records for a player of his age.

 

Why the love?
A hybrid of Thierry Henry and Real Ronaldo, he is a stunning sight to see in full flow. With a top speed of 10.6 metres per second – about 22.4mph – he is the fastest player around but he’s so much more than a speed merchant. His ball control is superb, even when flying at pace. His shooting is unerring and his positional sense, whether playing on the right or left and cutting inside, or just at pace through the middle, is intuitively brilliant.

How do you defend against him? Go tight and he’ll knock it past you and kill you with pace; drop deep and he’ll lash one in from 25 yards.

All prolific strikers earn the love of fans, but his prime art – that of beating a defence all on his own if needs be – is perhaps most loved of all. There are few finer sights in football than a striker breaking through the middle, chased by defenders, but pulling away from them, as though it is a 100m race, picking up the ball and with one touch slotting in under the keeper. But that’s just one of his specialities.

His is not a game of intricacies or complexities. Yes, he’s got the stepovers and blistering acceleration, but his basic principles are, get the ball, run at your man, cut outside or inside and shoot. Accelerate away from defenders, with the ball or without it, as a team-mate crosses the ball make sure you’re free to slam it in, first touch. It’s simple, it’s direct and often unstoppable but it takes self-belief as well as talent.

He strikes early and often and rarely misses the target. 10 dribbles, six shots, three goals against Barcelona isn’t untypical. It was an overwhelming performance and absolutely put the Spanish team to the sword. They were not the first and won’t be the last.

 

Four great moments
There’s fast running and then there’s fast running with the ball. He can do both and absolutely ruins Argentina in the process, which is always a very satisfying sight.

Three Monaco goals. Each deceptively simple but devastating.

Football is really easy. You just run faster than anyone else, control the ball instantly and flick it into the net.

Slotting it home from 35 yards is no problem.

 

What the people say
Here’s’ the thing. Everyone with an interest in football knows his name, but in the UK, few will have actually seen him in a live game outside of internationals. Why? Because the Champions League is on paywall telly and the majority of fans will not, or cannot afford to pay to see him or it. This is all too often forgotten by those that do and especially by a media elite who often do not even have to pay. It is a vicious economic apartheid and should not stand. It is neither in the interest of UEFA, or the Champions League, or the clubs, or the people that this continues to be the case. When you turn the people’s game into the elite people’s game, you steal it from the common bosom where it was birthed. Up with this we should not put. Read my books to find out more.

Those that have seen a lot of the lad, love him. Why wouldn’t you? We start with a welcome return of 4_4_haiku.

‘I just love the fact that Mbappe, besides being majestic, also seems to have been in every super club’s ‘We Scouted / He Came For A Trial With Us’ list. Definitely in Chelsea’s… Fodder for future Might’ve Been Teams galore.’

‘Kylian Mbappe is like discovering Thierry Henry’s regen on FIFA Career Mode, both started at Monaco, both won the World Cup before turning 21, the pace of a Cheetah and the finishing ability to rival anyone, truly special.’

‘My son loves watching him. One of those players who will make sure future generations stay interested in football because he does so many exciting things on the pitch. Also plays alongside Neymar, so clearly has the patience of a saint.’

‘I’m basing this on absolutely nothing, but he just *looks* like a really, really pleasant lad. One of the best footballers in the world as well, so there’s also that.’

‘So young. Just so ridiculously young. He could retire happy tomorrow. That is all.’

‘It’s quite something to watch a young man with so much talent that he quite literally has the footballing world at his feet.’

‘The only danger I can imagine for him is that his motivation drops by the time he’s 25… because he will have won everything by 25. Otherwise, him and Haaland will be the future Messi/Ronaldo debate (Messi for me), and he might well make the top tens of the very best, ever.’

 

What the future holds
While some might rather boringly say he has to move to one of the usual big clubs outside of France, there seems little imperative to do so at this age. After all, he’s a Paris boy, playing in Paris and winning everything. Why move? The only thing he hasn’t already won is the Champions League and he’s got a good shot at it this year.

Comparisons are made to Those Two but they seem largely irrelevant as they are outliers in the curve to greatness that will likely never be surpassed and each took a different route to immortality. One by being at a single club, one by playing all across Europe. Mbappe should follow his own route on his own terms.

This is certainly not the time to transfer to either Barcelona or Real Madrid, both of whom are looking threadbare, old and in debt. In fact, finances at both clubs are so dire that they could only afford him if they sold significant numbers in their squad. Even if the Catalans sold Messi, they are a billion euros in debt and taking his wages off the accounts would only help financially stabilise them, not necessarily give them massive riches to invest.

A boring big money move to Manchester City could happen but contrary to what many propagandists might say, the Premier League does not hold attraction and glamour for every European player. They do not all see England as a land of Elysian Fields and do not feel the pull of money when they’re already massively rewarded. Let’s hope KM is one of those.

An issue he may face sooner than most is some sort of burn0out. He’s already played over 260 games in under six years and has won almost everything. If he does add a CL medal this year, what is left for him to achieve? Still in his early 20s not everyone has the drive to just keep racking up more trophies and titles in one country or in many. Not everyone is as bothered about breaking records and picking up Ballon d’Ors as CR7 and Messi.

Then comes the demotivation that huge wealth sometimes brings. Again, it’s not in everyone’s psychological make-up to be as hungry as a multi-multi-millionaire as you were before you hoovered up your first 10 million. Indeed, you’d be weird if you did.

And finally, there is injury to possibly contend with. He’s been mercifully free of anything serious so far but we know fast players often suffer specific speed-related injuries sooner in their careers than players who are more pedestrian. It seems likely he’ll have at least one major twangage at some point; how he comes back from that will determine the longevity and success of his career.

To date, he has been absolutely phenomenal but football can be a cruel sport. You’re only one major injury away from being filed in the ‘where are they now?’ folder. I suppose what I’m saying is that at 22, and being one of the best on earth, doesn’t mean he will be aged 30.

However, he has already written a mighty legacy. Continue de courir, Kylian.

 

John Nicholson

Johnny’s new book Can We Have Our Football Back YET? What Covid-19 has told us about the Premier League, is an update to his 2019/20 best seller. “A searing account of a year like no other in football.”

Buy it here.

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