On the face of things, the 2020-21 season was Kylian Mbappe’s best to date.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker returned 42 goals and 11 assists for his club in just 47 matches, giving him a goal contribution every 70 minutes he was on the field.
And though Mbappe may have been at his most prolific, he was not decisive, at least on a team level.
Mbappe admittedly carried his PSG side to the semi-finals of the Champions League thanks to sparkling away displays against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but he could not inspire them to Ligue 1 glory – the bare minimum expected of the big spending capital club.
Then came Euro 2020, where he was expected to fire world champions France to glory.
Instead, he is likely to be remembered as one of the flops of the tournament, failing to get on the scoresheet in any of Les Bleus’ four matches, missing a huge change to win their last-16 encounter against Switzerland and then missing the decisive penalty in the shootout as Didier Deschamps’ side suffered their worst tournament loss under a coach who has served his country for a record period.
It is the first time in his career that Mbappe has not won a major title (let's not kid ourselves that the Coupe de France was a genuine objective when the season began).
Worse still, even before that display against the Swiss, Mbappe’s attitude was being questioned back home.
Former Monaco and PSG star Jerome Rothen did not spare Mbappe from his criticism, claiming that the superstar has an “oversized ego” and must be put in check.
Following the grim showing in Bucharest, Rothen was a little more circumspect, explaining: “If he’s got an attitude like that, it’s because the door has been left open to him to do so. Deschamps has open a lot of doors that he never usually opens.”
Certainly, there was more wrong with France than just Mbappe.
Throughout the tournament, the team that looked so well balanced as they won the 2018 World Cup was a shadow of themselves, with the possible exception of the opener against Germany. Arguably, only the much-lamented figure of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba emerged with any genuine credit.
But if Deschamps’ uncharacteristically laidback approach in the dugout was at the heart of Les Bleus’ failings this summer, this does not explain why Mbappe suffered domestically this season.
As far back as January, he was being questioned.
“Apart from the problems related to his physique and possibly his mind, I have the impression that he has become entangled in his brain and that he needs to take a step back and regenerate himself,” ex- France midfielder Emmanuel Petit told RMC.
“He has a body expression that doesn’t seem positive to me. I have the feeling that he is ‘Neymarised’, that he wants to do what Neymar does on the pitch when he does not have the qualities of Neymar at all.”
Certainly, Mbappe’s decision making has been clouded for some months, lacking the sharpness that he so amply displayed as a teenager.
Neymar, meanwhile, is persistently portrayed as the devil on his shoulder. As far back as 2019, France striker Christophe Dugarry, a fellow World Cup winner, warned that the Brazilian’s influence was having a maleficent impact.
Speaking after a stunning cameo appearance against Club Brugge in the Champions League, during which he scored a hat-trick and laid on another, Mbappe had negatively commented upon erstwhile coach Thomas Tuchel’s decision to leave him out of the starting XI.
“I wanted to start, I thought I would, but I don’t make the choice,” he told RMC. “When I came in, I wanted to show the coach that he can’t do without me.”
Dugarry, though, was unimpressed.
“That phrase bothered me, maybe because I come from a different generation. Today, the collective is not the priority, we think of ourselves more often,” he also told RMC.
“I think he is ‘Neymarised’. I’d rather he hang out with Idrissa Gueye, Ander Herrera or Angel Di Maria. Yes, it’s less fun hanging out with those evangelists, it’s more of a party with Neymar, but hey…
“As I said, I’m afraid that the dream will break with this boy. I feel that things could turn quickly.”
In the 18 months since Dugarry’s statement, Mbappe has largely only excelled – until Euro 2020, when these criticisms of egotism have reared their head again.
Rothen, for example, pointed particularly to the fact that the PSG man was charged with free-kick duty for France.
“Is he aware that he doesn’t have the quality of some players in the squad on set pieces?” Rothen questioned. “Maybe he scores them in training. But I watch all Mbappe’s matches.
“Do you remember a magnificent free-kick from 25 metres out?
“On the other hand, I remember [Antoine] Griezmann, Pogba. That’s two already, a left footer and a right footer. So what is Mbappe doing there?”
In Mbappe’s defence, he has been playing top-level football for the best part of a year without a significant break due to the July restart of domestic hostilities in France caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The start of the season was difficult physically, but above all mentally, as we had no time to prepare,” he told the club’s official website. “Mentally, it's difficult to get back on it.
"In my mind, and there are several of us who feel this, it's not a new season. It's as if last season has just continued. For me, we are at the 60th match of the season, and not the ninth match of the new season.”
Mbappe certainly played Euro 2020 like a player burnt out mentally, with the ongoing background noise regarding his PSG contract and a possible move to Real Madrid doubtless not aiding the situation.
His break, though, comes around a fortnight sooner than he would have wished, but it will nonetheless be welcome – and perhaps essential if the footballing world is to see Mbappe at his peak again next season.