At the last major tournament, France were one of the standout teams; they played some attractive football throughout, scored some fantastic goals, beat the world champions in the semi-finals, but sadly fell at the final hurdle, thus extending their wait for another major trophy. Even with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet in attack, when losing to Portugal in the final of EURO 2016 in Paris, there was a real lack of cutting edge from Les Bleus in the forward areas. Enter Kylian Mbappé.
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Two years on and it’s fair to say that France have improved in most areas. This time around, Deschamps has a squad that is far more balanced, while the manager seemingly has more viable options in almost every area. The likes of Samuel Umtiti and Paul Pogba have another two years playing at the top level under their belts, full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibé are arguably upgrades on what went before, while there’s more depth both in the centre of the park and out wide too. However, the vital cog in the French machine could be a 19-year-old old forward who was virtually unheard of 18 months ago.
Since bursting on to the scene halfway through the 2016/17 season, Kylian Mbappé has set the world alight and is fast becoming one of football’s best attacking players. The youngster is already the second most expensive player in the history of game, thanks to a move to PSG last summer, while he’ll go to Russia wearing the famous #10 shirt for Les Bleus, despite still being a teenager.
Style of Play
There’s certainly no lack of emphasis on the athletic side of the game in modern football, so there are of course plenty of players in each of the top leagues who’re fantastic athletes. Despite the rise of players who’re perhaps athletes first and footballers second, the game is still awash with naturally gifted technical players, players who make the footballing side of things look somewhat simplistic, though there are few who combine the two quite like France’s teenage sensation.
With a combination of raw pace and searing acceleration, Mbappé has the ability to leave defenders behind, but what makes the forward somewhat unique is his ability to dribble with the ball so intricately at such high speeds. Add in the fact that the teenager not only has the above attributes but plays with a real purposeful intensity and it’s easy to see why he’s such a nightmare for defenders to face.
Adept at both receiving the ball to feet before jinking or dropping the shoulder and spinning in behind off the ball, leaving his pursuers for dead in either scenario, the PSG forward can announce himself on the international stage once and for all in Russia this summer.
With his explosiveness, intensity and natural ability to get goals, it’s very easy to think that France would’ve won that EURO 2016 final in Paris had they been able to call upon Mbappé. Players of his nature can simply make the difference when others cannot.
AS Monaco – 60 appearances, 27 goals
PSG – 44 appearances, 21 goals
France – 14 appearances, 3 goals
Total – 118 appearances, 51 goals
The youngster did make a handful of appearances for Monaco during the 2015/16 season, though most of which came from the bench at the tail end of games. The 2016/17 season, which saw the goal-getter make 44 appearances, is when things really started for Mbappé.
Having featured a few times at the start of the campaign, it wasn’t until around November/December time that people, including Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim, started to take notice. Mbappé scored his first top-level hat-trick in a Coupe de la Ligue game on the 14th December, becoming the first Monaco player to do so since 1997, and it was that hat-trick which set the wheels in motion for an explosive second half of the campaign, a campaign that culminated in the then 18-year-old scoring 26 goals in 44 appearances, nine of which came in the Champions League.
Kylian Mbappé’s stand out performances for Monaco during the 2016/17 season prompted PSG to pay a staggering fee to secure his services, a fee that was reportedly in the region of £160 million. Even at a club filled with stars such as Neymar and Edinson Cavani, Mbappé has looked anything but out of place. Having scored 13 goals in just 24 league starts, as well as eight goals in eleven starts in other competitions, since joining the Parisian outfit, the wonderkid has continued to thrive.
The New Thierry Henry?
Given both his stature and style of play, Mbappé is often compared with Thierry Henry, who is one of France’s best-ever forwards. It’s not uncommon for Mbappé to drift out into the channels before receiving the ball, bursting into the box and coolly slotting past a helpless keeper, so it’s fair to say that the comparisons in terms of playing style are warranted.
However, the pair, who both started out at Monaco, are not only similar in the way that they play the game. Henry’s pathway to French footballing immortality begun when he went to the 1998 World Cup as youngster. Despite having previously won only three caps, the wonderous striker, who was only a matter of months older than Mbappé is now, played a leading role for Les Bleus as they went on to lift the famous FIFA World Cup Trophy. Will history rewrite itself? Can France’s current young striking sensation follow in the footsteps of a great exactly 20 years on?
It remains to be seen as to whether or not Mbappé will have as big an impact for France at this tournament as Henry did in 1998, though the teenager has all the qualities necessary to make the 2018 renewal of football’s biggest competition a memorable one for both himself and his country.
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