As Kylian Mbappe was presented as a Paris Saint-Germain player for the first time on Wednesday, it quickly became clear that this was no ordinary signing: it was a homecoming.
Greeted by a jubilant bunch of supporters outside the Parc des Princes, where flares were let off and his name incessantly sung, it was a welcome never before received by an 18-year-old footballer, who will, when PSG buy him outright next summer, become the most expensive teenager the game has ever seen at a fee of €145 million, rising potentially to €180m.
On Friday, when the Parisians go to Metz, their fans will have the opportunity to see him on the field in their colours for the first time, the completion of a dream for a young man who has climbed the ranks and will now play for his hometown club.
Mbappe might have been ranked by CIES Football Observatory as the most overpriced signing of the summer transfer window , but to PSG, he possesses a value more intrinsic, a quality that money can’t buy. He is Alex Hunter made real. His symbolism is priceless.
The image of a working-class kid who has risen to the top of the tree was one cast throughout the press conference in midweek, which opened with the image of a Metro train crossing an industrial looking Parisian bridge with graffiti scrawled on it. Then as Mbappe appeared, pictures of him as a kid at Parc des Princes formed the backdrop.
“It was important to come back home,” were virtually the player’s first official words as a PSG player. “The Parc is special, I came here when I was young. There is only one club in the city, so the kids naturally head towards PSG. For me, the Parc was a place where I came when I had pocket money!”
Mbappe’s home of Bondy, where he first played the game seriously, lies barely 10 kilometres to the north west of Paris’ historic centre and twice that to the home of PSG, where he will now team up with world stars such as Neymar, Marco Verratti and Dani Alves in a side suddenly capable of winning the Champions League.
It is an area that he retains a great affection for, having played for the club for many years as a youth before moving to Monaco. And the feeling is mutual, not least because the attacker remains so down to earth whenever he returns.
“No-one can understand the emotion I feel today,” Mbappe said when he returned home a Ligue 1 champion with Monaco. “It’s a sense of extreme pride. It’s the town I’ve known, in which I’ve grown up and developed and where a part of me stays.
“Here, I’m not Mbappe, I’m just Kylian.”
It was in Bondy, after all, where he forged his industrious nature. On those playing fields he sacrificed his school holidays to work at his game, giving rise to the attitude that made him go home promptly after Monaco won the Ligue 1 title last season in order to prepare for the next challenge.
Initially, it was thought that would be the defence of the crown, but instead it is the pursuit of it anew in the capital.
“I reflected along with my parents and my representatives, weighed up the pros and cons, and I decided to join PSG, because it is a project that will allow me to learn while winning,” he said. “Learning is fine, but you also have to win – you only have one career. I’m hungry for titles, I’m a competitor, I want to win right now.
“Through hard work and humility, we will achieve our goals and this dream of winning the Champions League.”
While PSG’s global fanbase wants success, what local supporters wish to see is a club with a French and moreover a Parisian background. Blaise Matuidi’s summer departure to Juventus stripped the supporters of one of ‘their own’, despite the player being born in Toulouse, but Mbappe is destined to become the new darling of the Parc.
Indeed, a Parisian spine is starting to form, with Adrien Rabiot performing to a formidable standard in the midfield. Further back, Alphonse Areola in goal has ousted Kevin Trapp for the No.1 jersey while Presnel Kimpembe - born only a few kilometres north of Paris - is now challenging Thiago Silva and Marquinhos for a starting berth in the defence.
Neymar may be the player to showcase PSG to the world, but it is Mbappe who may yet offer greater appeal to a more local audience.
By completing his dream of a move to his hometown, he has simultaneously taken PSG a step closer to their long-term goal of winning the Champions League.