JOHANNESBURG – Now that we’ve talked up Kylian Mbappe as the next global superstar, can the young Frenchman deliver at the World Cup in Russia? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that shouldn’t be a problem as the Paris Saint-Germain forward is expected to be an integral part of Didier Deschamps’ strong France squad as they look to brush aside Australia, Peru and Denmark in Group C.
Mbappe, 19, has had a momentous two seasons, which forced the world to sit up and take notice - playing a key role in a Monaco side that reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League only to lose 4-1 on aggregate to Juventus in May 2017. He was exceptional and was the subject of interest from several top clubs in some of the best leagues, including in his native country.
Many wondered whether the teenager moved on too quickly as Monaco dismantled their 2017 Ligue 1 winning team, making profits through the sale of Benjamin Mendy, Bernado Silva (both Manchester City) and Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea), while Mbappe joined PSG on a season-long loan deal with an option to remain there on a long-term contract for a incredible amount of money. And with Neymar leaving Barcelona for a world-record fee to join the French giants, skeptics felt Mbappe would be a bit part player.
But that could not have been further from the truth - alongside the Brazil talisman, Mbappe picked up from where he left off in the previous campaign, won another championship with his new club and, while playing mostly as a winger to accommodate Edinson Cavani in a central striker role, managed 21 goals in 46 matches in all competitions. He is now only the second youngest player to make his France senior national team debut and his tiny shoulders appear broad enough to carry the hopes of coach Deschamps’ dream to win the World Cup as both player and manager.
Known for his skill and blistering pace, accompanied by his impressive eye for goal, Mbappe made his first appearance for France a little over a year ago and it was immediately clear to Deschamps that he had to be involved en route to the World Cup and at the tournament itself this year: if he is good enough, he is old enough, was the coach’s approach. The coach also explained his decision to leave out some heavy hitters like Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial because of the versatility in his 23-man team, especially that of Mbappe, who can play up front as a lone striker or out on the wing cutting inside to create and score goals.
France hasn’t been this excited about a sensational teenager bullying defenders at this high level since Thierry Henry, but they have every right to make noise over Mbappe and the prospect of what he can do in Group C, and beyond. He’s that good.