– Kylian Mbappe is setting record after record at this summer’s World Cup
– Just 19, he is the first teenager since Pele in 1958 to score twice in a finals game
– Mbappe broke Thierry Henry’s record at Monaco when making his debut at 16
– He trialled with the giants and received offers with a number of European clubs
– He was sensible and is becoming a revelation thanks to his level-headedness
Diego Maradona calls him ‘the revelation of soccer’, Arsene Wenger says he is the ‘new Pele’ and he has already been invited to dine at the Elysee with the French President Emmanuel Macron.
In the quarter-finals of the World Cup against Argentina, France forward Kylian Mbappe became the first teenager since the Brazilian Pele in 1958 to score at least twice in a game at the tournament.
He is scaling the heights and after another silver-quick outing in the semi-finals against Belgium, he can now become a World Cup winner at the age of only 19 if France defeat Croatia in Moscow on Sunday.
Unnervingly, Mbappe was not even born when France last won the World Cup in 1998 but he shares in common traits with many of those players such as Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane who charmed and unified a nation 20 years ago.
Born to a Cameroonian father and Algerian mother, Mbappe is the product of immigration and he grew up amid the 1960s concrete tower blocks on the outskirts of Paris.
His father Wilfried worked as a paid coach at local club AS Bondy – in the 10th tier of French football – for over 20 years and Mbappe began there at the age of five.
In Bondy, Mbappe is now the poster-boy for a region, an identity and a new generation. His face adorns a giant billboard on one of those concrete blocks, accompanied by the slogan: ‘Bondy, ville des possibles’ (The town where anything is possible).
His first coach Antonio Riccardi recalls: ‘I remember him saying ‘I’m going to play for France and win the World Cup. We were laughing because he was only six years old…’
Mbappe’s qualities are immediately clear. He has the pace of a young Michael Owen, the stepovers of a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo and a cool-headedness in front of goal that has been likened to Lionel Messi. As he continued to develop, interest came from home and abroad.
For admiring English football fans, there are the usual stories of near-misses. As an 11-year-old, he was invited over to Chelsea for a trial. He spent a week at the club’s Cobham training ground, spending time with Didier Drogba and leading the line alongside Tammy Abraham – who spent last season on loan at Swansea – in an 8-0 victory over Charlton Athletic.
Arsene Wenger met Mbappe for talks last summer while the player himself says he said ‘no’ to Manchester City. Manchester United, meanwhile, scouted Mbappe in his mid-teenage years but manager Louis van Gaal could not be persuaded.
Former assistant manager Ryan Giggs said: ‘I watched Mbappe and Gabriel Jesus for a year. I was watching them with the scout and it was a no-brainer. It was just like, ‘Get them.’ It would have been £5 million or something – get them, loan them back – and that’s where the recruitment could have been better.’
There was a snub, too, for Real Madrid, despite several days training with the Spanish club and a meeting with Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mbappe made sensible decisions. He spent two years at Clairefontaine before joining Monaco at the age of 14, viewing the club as the most likely high-level, well-numerated place to receive opportunities.
He made his debut on December 2, 2015, breaking Thierry Henry’s record to become the club’s youngest player at 16 years and 347 days. At Monaco, the young starlet – still to pass his driving test – dismantled French defences one by one, scoring 26 goals in his first full season as the club won the French title.
The boy wonder then moved to Paris Saint-Germain last summer in a £166m transfer that began as a loan. The figures were eye-watering but the glare of the Parisian spotlight was focused more on Neymar. Some questioned Mbappe, wondering whether the financial prospects of PSG were a smarter move than Real Madrid or the Premier League.
Yet those who know Mbappe insist he remains grounded. President Macron invited him and Drogba for lunch at the the Elysee with the new Liberian President and former World Player of the Year George Weah earlier this year. They discussed the development of football in Africa and observers at the meal reflected that the 19-year-old belied his age with the maturity of his observations.
Macron has since tipped Mbappe to achieve ‘beautiful things’ when he finishes his career. Mbappe has donated his £17,000 international match fees to a charity for disabled children and, last month, he financed a trip to Russia for children from his local school, College Jean Renoir. For 10 days, the 25 teenagers went sight-seeing in Moscow and attended France’s draw with Denmark and Morocco’s match against Portugal. Mbappe also took time out of his World Cup preparations to spend time with the children in Russia.
‘You never think you’re speaking to an 18-year-old when you speak to him,’ Wenger said. ‘He could become the next Pele. He has no limits.’