20 Jul Kylian Mbappe has used the 2018 World Cup to catapult himself to superstardom
Russia hosted a quite sensational World Cup which will be remembered by an entire generation as the moment they saw international football at its absolute zenith. Younger readers will know all about older family members regaling them with tales of the great Brazil team of the 1970s as well as the impact Johan Cruyff and the Dutch had on the World Cup in 1978, but they now have their own tournament to look back on fondly.
There are also the memories of dramatic moments, stories which enthralled viewers as the tournament unfolded. Ronaldo’s mysterious collapse ahead of the 1998 final, France’s multi-cultural success in the same tournament, as well as Costa Rica’s memorable run to the quarter-final in 2014.
Russia’s showpiece tournament had everything, it wasn’t just pockets of excellent football or isolated stories, but a fine blend of the two, running right from the host nation’s opening match against Saudi Arabia to France lifting the trophy at the Luzhniki Stadium after a 4-2 victory over Croatia.
Players inevitably saw their respective stocks rise and fall following their performances throughout the competition, but nobody gained more from his four-week spell in Russia than Kylian Mbappe. The 19-year-old has used the tournament to catapult himself to superstardom and life will never again be the same for him.
Paris Saint-Germain parted with a hefty fee of £160 million to sign former Monaco forward in the summer of 2017, although the payment hasn’t yet been made. Had it not been for Neymar’s equally as market-breaking move weeks earlier, this would have been a world record transfer fee.
Many were sceptical of the transfer because the French youngster had enjoyed just one season in professional football. His breakthrough year had come in 2016/17 when he excelled for Monaco in their incredible campaign which saw them reach the Champions League semi-final and win the French title.
It was clear that Mbappe would be one of the next great footballing talents, everyone could see it, but few would have been prepared to gamble such a vast sum of money betting that he would be the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
12 months later and £160 million looks like a fair price. Mbappe was brilliant in his debut season with PSG, albeit always allowing Neymar to steal the limelight, and his World Cup performances have moved him into a new category. Not only is the teenager world class already, but he’s capable of propelling a team towards glory on the biggest stage, both traits of Messi and Ronaldo.
To suggest he had carried France to World Cup glory alone would be nonsensical. He was ably supported by Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Hugo Lloris and Raphael Varane, but the Bondy born forward was the sprinkling of magic on every French performance.
Despite finding the net in the group stage, it wasn’t until the Round of 16 when Mbappe truly came to life. His staggeringly explosive run towards the heart of Argentina’s defence within the first 15 minutes of play set the tone. It resulted in Marcos Rojo having no choice but to bring him down and concede a penalty which Griezmann converted with ease.
He would then score a brace of his own to help Les Bleus overcome a 2-1 deficit and reach the quarter-final, although it was his first goal which illustrated his instinctive brilliance. The Frenchman claimed a loose ball within the South American penalty area and he left every single defender for dead with a cushioned touch across his own body before striking a shot under Franco Armani.
Within one match Mbappe had shown the hallmarks of a great. His run against the Argentine defence was like that of Michael Owen against the same opposition in Saint Etienne in 1998, while his finishing and raw power on the ball looked remarkably similar to Ronaldo Nazario when he burst onto the scene.
His goal in the final against Croatia showed his footballing intelligence. Not only had he done a lot of defensive work in the first half trying to stop Ivan Perisic. But he then managed to fool Danijel Subasic by using all the blocking defenders as cover and firing the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner of his goal, despite the natural inclination being to aim for other side of the net.
Ronaldo’s move to Juventus has brought to an end a glorious era at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, and Florentino Perez must be left ruing the fact the club couldn’t get a deal completed to sign Mbappe in 2017.
Neymar’s performances in the World Cup were of an acceptable standard, but he didn’t deliver in the way his domestic teammate did. You could say that the Brazilian wasn’t entirely fit after a metatarsal injury, but it’s difficult to argue against the fact that the 19-year-old now returns to the Parc des Princes as the club’s most valuable asset.
If Los Blancos wanted to revisit the possibility of signing him to replace Ronaldo, they would now be looking at a fiscal outlay of at least the £200 million PSG paid for Neymar last summer.
Mbappe plays with the maturity of a forward far beyond his years, and having won the World Cup and played a pivotal role in the questions which dogged both Ronaldo and Messi will never apply to him.
Provided Luka Modric doesn’t lift the trophy in December, Mbappe has now propelled himself into a position where it’s unthinkable that he won’t be the one to break the Messi/Ronaldo duopoly of the Ballon d’Or. Not since Kaka in 2007 has there been a different winner, but it’s difficult to envisage that remaining so for much longer.
You could comfortably make a case for the teenager to be in with a chance of winning it for 2018, although it’s likely that Ronaldo’s Champions League success will keep the trophy with him for a further year.
At 26 years old Neymar is still in his prime, and you cåan understand why Perez has been so desperate to bring him to Madrid. However, Mbappe is doing the same things as the Brazilian and is seven years his junior.
If those in power at the Parisian club are astute, then they will sell Neymar for as much as they possibly can and then build a team around Mbappe. When you look at how much Thomas Tuchel managed to develop and improve Ousmane Dembele, as well as get the most out of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, it’s genuinely exciting to think where Mbappe will be on this date in 2019.
His marketability will now go through the roof too. Everybody remembers how Zinedine Zidane became the poster boy of world football shortly after his hand in France’s 1998 success. Of course, Adidas’ link with the national team at that time helped, but you’d imagine the same doors will open up for the former Monaco prodigy.
Perez is attracted to the Galactico element that signing Neymar would represent, but the Frenchman will eclipse him soon enough. He’s performed to an incredibly high standard at the toughest tournament in football, and he isn’t even anywhere near his prime.
PSG have their hands on the hottest property football has seen since Messi came through the La Masia academy, and the marketing side of the game is on an entirely different scale now to what it was in 2004.
Kylian Mbappe has the world at his feet, and the entire world is talking about him. It’s understood that his dream is to play for Real Madrid, and you’d imagine that opportunity will undoubtedly come around again, sooner rather than later. For now, he can enjoy being a World champion.
* Disclaimer: The opinions within this article are those of the author and not necessarily representative of SportPesa