It was just over a year ago that Monaco officially presented Kylian Mbappe to French football.
Yet to even reach his 17th birthday, the precocious teenager arrived as a substitute for the final moments of a match against Caen. There was no time to make an immediate impression, but the club knew they had someone special on their hands. Indeed, it took just four further appearances, and a combined 55 minutes of play, for Mbappe register his first goal in France’s top flight.
His impression was felt. And now nobody is under any illusions that Ligue 1 once again has a future great on its hands. "There are good players, very good players and then there are players with the talent of Kylian, who, for me, are in a category of their own," Ludovic Batelli, Mbappe’s France U19 coach told Goal.
The forward's ascent has been rapid, and drawn inevitable comparisons to another former Monaco alumni, Thierry Henry. Three goals and five assists in just 11 appearances this season have already attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Mbappe is a youngster who played without barriers, who is already showing the confidence to set himself free and express his extraordinary talent. "It's also about to his character, how mature he is and quickly made his game has grown," adds Batelli.
“He has an immediate vision of the things he can put into practice through his technical abilities. If you just allow him to play, he can make the difference both individually and collectively.”
That’s a trait he shares with another youngster blazing trails in Ligue 1, Marseille’s Maxime Lopez. One year Mbappe’s elder, the young maestro of l’OM was not introduced to the first-team quite as smoothly as things went for his contemporary in the Principality, however.
Lopez has been a first-team player since just the end of October before Rudi Garcia unleashed him on the top flight. The product of the OM academy immediately made his presence felt, and is increasingly having decisive impacts on games: He had 132 touches against Caen in November, a total not bettered by anyone at the club in the past 10 years of Ligue 1 football.
The midfielder scored his first goal in November, and also provided three assists before being named among the three candidates for December’s Player of the Month award.
The teenager’s performances are all the more remarkable for the level of character he is showing, starring in a team that are once again struggling to meet the expectations of the club the size of Marseille.
Strong on the ball, he is setting the tone of the play with his marvellous range of passing and intricate, technical play in tight spaces.
Mbappe and Lopez have markedly different profiles, but stand together as the two brightest sparks in French football this season.
"They are two players who have extremely high technical talents," says Batelli, who has worked both players. "They are not the same sort of players but they are both big talents. Maxime is about the pass, about his capacity to make others play. Kylian is quick and penetrative with the ball".
But for all their technical skills, the duo are also displaying the other ingredients necessary to form top players. Both are showing a level of mental maturity beyond their years, pursuing their goals with humility and speaking intelligently.
"There are similarities between the two players because they have common points in terms of maturity, serenity and listening," says Batelli. "They are not only focused on themselves, they are interested in everything they do and are attentive to anything that is likely to make them progress. "
They appear to have everything they will need to follow the well-tread path from Ligue 1 to Superstardom, now Mbappe and Lopez must stay on track.