Should Kylian Mbappe continue to keep his head down, avoid injury and make sensible career decisions, he can become the Cristiano Ronaldo or the Lionel Messi of his generation. It is a bold statement to make but, having only just turned 18 in December, the young Monaco striker has already shown he has the technical capabilities to make it all the way to the top.
No-one in the last 30 years has made it to 10 Ligue 1 goals in less games, with the Paris-born youngster finding the net at an astonishing rate since debuting as a 16-year-old against Caen in 2015. A seasoned professional would be delighted by scoring once every 90 minutes; for a rookie in his first full season, it is simply mind-blowing.
It comes as no surprise that on Wednesday, Mbappe was named in Goal's 2017 NxGn, which ranks the 50 best teenagers in the world born in 1998 or after. He finished second, only behind AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Comparisons with Thierry Henry have, of course, abounded. It is often unfair to liken young players to such superstars but, in this case, it is impossible to ignore the similarities between the pair.
Mbappe is following a similar career path, having started out with a small side in the suburbs of Paris before moving to Monaco, where, like Henry, he has taken French football by storm.
Mbappe possesses the same fluid gait as the Arsenal legend, moves in an equally graceful fashion and is blessed with a golden touch in front of goal. Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that he is an even more natural finisher than France’s record scorer, who did not become truly prolific until moving to Highbury.
“He reminds me of a young Henry,” Gunners boss Arsene Wenger admitted. “He’s got the same clever look, the same qualities of intelligence and the same deftness of finishing.”
But, at 18, Mbappe is a far superior player.
Henry would play only three times for the principality side as an 18-year-old, and two of these matches came in the fortnight before he had turned 19. By contrast, Mbappe, who only turned 18 three months ago, has featured on over 40 occasions and has found the net 20 times, creating another 14.
There are no guarantees, of course, that Mbappe will continue to develop at this incredible pace and enjoy the storied career that Henry did, but it may well be that he gets his chances to start chasing down his processor’s record of 51 France goals very soon. Indeed, his national team debut will come in the against Luxembourg or Spain, according to Didier Deschamps, having been picked ahead of the likes of Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette.
“If you ask me if he’s of an international standard, I would say yes,” France boss Deschamps told L’Equipe earlier in March. Several scintillating performances since then have persuaded the former Juventus boss that the youngster is worth pitching in already.
Reaching such a dizzying level at a young age is often perceived as a curse. Both Deschamps and Wenger have expressed their concern about the level of publicity that the youngster has already attracted but Monaco’s management of their young charge has, thus far, been formidable.
Coach Leonardo Jardim used him sparingly until the beginning of February, when his talents became simply impossible to ignore as he scored nine times in eight outings. Even now, though, Monaco are still eager to exercise caution over their young gem. This was abundantly clear when Jardim withdrew him in a recent 4-0 win against Nantes with an hour gone.
The striker went off looking disappointed that he did not get a chance to chase his hat-trick – it would have been the third of his career – but his Portuguese boss whispered something in his ear, extracting a contented nod from the forward, who seemed to understand his reasoning. It was a small show of maturity that suggests he is mentally capable of going all the way to the top.
The youngster has certainly displayed a level head thus far. He was given a tour of Real Madrid’s facilities by no less than Zinedine Zidane, who spearheaded Los Blancos attempts to capture him four years ago, but the player, along with his family, felt that a move abroad at that stage would be a case of too much, too soon.
Meanwhile, Wenger tried to squirrel him away from Monaco last summer, when he was still a relative unknown. “I approached him last year because I really believe that he has an exceptional future ahead of him,” he explained.
Wenger was right. There is nothing, it seems, beyond Mbappe’s capabilities. His game is multi-dimensional, and though it is currently based largely around his pace, he has shown glimpses of tremendous dribbling abilities, which are aided by the sheer confidence that he possesses when running at an opponent. As he demonstrated against Nantes at the beginning of March, he is capable with his head, too.
His game intelligence is also strong. Knowing when to pass and when to shoot is vital for a top-class forward, and Mbappe has already shown himself to be superior to his peers in this regard.
Moreover, he is a natural finisher and appears to know by instinct the best way of beating the goalkeeper, be it through sheer power, as was the case against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, or pure touch, as Montpellier goalkeeper Laurent Pionnier found to his cost as he was made to look foolish by the teenager’s impudent dink.
"He’s only 18, so what he’s done is incredible,” Bernardo Silva, perhaps Ligue 1’s outstanding player this season, said. “At the beginning, we knew he was a player that was a little different. When he touches the ball, he really feels it. He’s got a game that has something special."
Peter Staunton on Mbappé
Kylian Mbappé needs to stay at AS MONACO to avoid becoming another Anthony Martial Posted by Goal.com on miércoles, 22 de marzo de 2017
Everything that has been thrown at him thus far, he has handled with ease. But there are tests ahead and hurdles to overcome. His first dip in form will be one of the biggest: how will the golden boy cope with suddenly being questioned?
Still, while the variables are great and the pitfalls are many, if Mbappe maintains this remarkable rate of progression, it won't be long before the likes of Zidane come calling again.