He knew he had the world watching. This was after all one of the biggest events of the footballing season and one of the most crucial parts of the tournament. And he’s part of one of the favourites to actually go on and win the thing although in the years past, they’ve struggled with expectations.
Which is exactly the moment Kylian Mbappe decided to step up and show the world exactly what he could do. Now a quick, very quick, look back through the history books and you could attribute this to Mbappe’s performance for Monaco in the Champions League against either Borussia Dortmund or Manchester City. Or you could attribute it to his performance for France at the FIFA World Cup and yes, both the Round of 16 or the Final, although the Round of 16 was more career making.
You could also attribute it to his performances for Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League where he caused Manchester United all kinds of problems in the first-leg. Or the hattrick of assists against Galatasaray or the hattrick against Club Brugge. But those are minnows compared to his hattrick against Barcelona. Because that’s what Kylian Mbappe has already achieved and the forward is barely three months into his 22nd year on this planet.
Imagine that. Barely 22 years old and already his CV has achievements, trophies and accolades that most footballers don’t even come close to achieving in their careers. But the biggest one of them all, without a shadow of a doubt has to be that shiny, golden Jules Rimet trophy. When he became one of the youngest players to lift the FIFA World Cup while, bear in mind, playing a starring role.
Not someone who was just there for the ride along or someone who could someday say, “I was a part of that French team that won the 2018 World Cup”. No, Kylian Mbappe was Didier Deschamps’ superstar in a team overly laden with superstars from top to bottom. Go ahead, open Google and take a quick look at the line-up that started the 2018 final at the Luzhniki. Scan through it and tell me they aren’t, or weren’t at that point of time, some of the very best players in their positions.
If he maintains the desire to be number one, to be a great champion and humility to work to improve, he will have an incredible career ahead of him. And when I say incredible, I mean one of the best in history.”
Because a midfield pivot of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are what dreams are made up off. Combine that with Samuel Umtiti, before injuries struck him down, and Raphael Varane, still only 24 and one of the best already, alongside Antoine Griezmann and Blaise Matuidi -
it’s a world class team. And that’s with Nabil Fekir, Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy, Ousamane Dembele and a million others on the bench. And yet, the star of the show had to be Kylian Mbappe and he did more than prove it.
With four goals, only Harry Kane scored more. Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Antoine Griezmann had the same. Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mane, Neymar, Son Heung-Min and any other world class name you can think off, all scored fewer. And yet, after a ludicrous performance against Barcelona, the world has begun to paint the young Frenchman as nothing more than another superstar footballer trying to break into the game.
Even four years after that World Cup win, Mbappe still hasn’t achieved enough for the world to consider him as a part of that elite group of footballers. Someone, who a manager could throw on the field and know in an instant, that the game has automatically changed just because of his sheer presence. That is partly because he plays for the best team, by some distance, in a league that not too many people watch. And when they do watch PSG and Mbappe play, aka in the Champions League, the Frenchman has struggled.
That game against Istanbul Basaksehir, PSG’s final group stage game, was the first time Mbappe had scored in the Champions League ending a 9 game drought. Then came that Barcelona performance and once again, it felt like the changing of the guard at the very top of football’s elite table. Here was a PSG side coached by one of the best managers in the game, tearing into a Barcelona side that doesn’t really bear any signs to a team that once ruled Europe with an iron fist.
But more poignantly, it marked the end, on a club level, for Lionel Messi who couldn’t drag his side out from the quagmire almost singlehandedly. That kind of performance seems far away from the Argentine and while he could prove us all wrong in the second leg, that’s a problem for a different time. Because Messi, and Barcelona, were humbled by yet another team although in this case while the team thrived, it allowed Mbappe to thrive and not the other way around.
That is the modern superstar because you see, together alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi has changed the way football sees an individual. They’ve forced teams to create weird solutions and from that weird solution, a young French superstar popped up and became the first teenager since Pele himself to lift a World Cup. The piece de resistance of a player’s career and here this kid won it before many are even allowed to walk across a football field.
But that’s the modern era, a time where social media thrives, a time where the average teenager now knows more than what the average adult did ten years ago. It’s a completely different ball-game now and it’s why, at 22, Kylian Mbappe has a tough road ahead because now comes the easy bit. Winning a World Cup is the hard bit, collecting everything else, the Champions Leagues, the league titles, the Ballon d’Ors, the Golden Boots and the thousand others are supposed to be the easy bit.
Yet, it’s the hardest challenges in this world that tend to give a human being the drive and purpose that their lives need. Not the easy ones but the hard ones and yet, having already lifted the hardest one possible, Mbappe’s challenge is to now one by one, collect the easy ones. Doing that takes a drive and passion for the game that few have, that even fewer are born with and it’s not something that can be taught.
It calls for the right moves at the right time, the right deals, signing the right contract and yet as Mbappe’s past shows, he is driven beyond most. The sheer fact that he created a plan as a young kid still at Monaco, and then proceeded to stick to the plan is simply incredible. Because it’s rare when you see teenagers, forget footballers, create a plan, follow it and stick to it despite everything. Let alone when the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona are chasing after you with unbridled sums of money.
So whether his future is at PSG, leading them to Champions League glory and etching his name in the history books; so be it. Or whether it’s away from PSG, doing things at Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or the billions of other clubs interested, then so be it as well. The only thing that really matters is that Kylian Mbappe does justice to his talent. Not for the fans, or to try and replicate what the generation led by that dynamic duo did but for himself and only himself.
For the fact, that when you’re a generational talent like he is, not doing justice to that will one day bite you in the backside. And he won’t be alone. Because while the world did switch their Tv’s on to watch Lionel Messi dance past a million defenders or to watch Cristiano Ronaldo score an inhuman number of goals, they also did it for Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Wesley Sneijder and the other world class talents.
Which is a rather long way of saying, Mbappe has help and lots of it, with the teenagers built to thrive in the modern era, now slowly walking out of the bushes. From Ansu Fati, Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Vinicius Junior in Spain, to Fede Chiesa, Dejan Kulusevski, Sandro Tonali, Nicolo Barella in Italy, to Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford in England to Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala in Germany.
He most definitely has help and may even have a rival in Erling Haaland. But even then, make no mistake, Kylian Mbappe Lottin is their supreme leader although something tells me, that Norwegian kid will have a lot to say about that.