Dethroning a King
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Football fan who hasn’t heard of Kylian Mbappe. Born on the 20th of December 1998 in the town of Bondy, in the region of Seine-Saint-Denis, to an Algerian Mother and Cameroonian Father. Kylian would grow up part of a sporting family, his mother Fayza a Handball player and father Wilifred a football coach. Wilifred coached local side AS Bondy, a team Kylian would play for from an early age, and 12 years old he would go on trial at the local academy. Mbappe would go onto to become a graduate of the famed Clairefontaine National Academy.
Clairefontaine is one of 12 National Academies in France, set up in 1988 and the brainchild of former French Football Federation (FFF) President, Fernand Sastre. The centres are responsible for developing and educating the nations most talented players and have produced such stars as Nicholas Anelka, Louis Saha, Blaise Matuidi and Thierry Henry, and it’s the latter Kylian would share a common path with.
Mbappe would attract the interests of Real Madrid, Valencia and Chelsea whilst at Clairefontaine, but he would finally settle for AS Monaco, Henry’s first club, and sign a contract aged just 15. Mbappe would appear 12 times and score 4 goals for the reserves in his first year.
Kylian would make his debut for the Monaco first team on the 2nd of December 2015, aged 16, breaking the record set by Henry 21 years earlier. Think about that for a second, we’re talking about Mbappe being an early contender for the Ballon d’Or post-Ronaldo and Messi, and he wasn’t even born when Henry made his debut for Monaco, such as the impact he has made so early on in his career. Two months after making his debut, Kylian would score his first goal, aged 17 at this point, again beating the record previously set by Henry. A king had been dethroned, Thierry Henry was no longer the record holder at Monaco and he’d been replaced by a player some were arguing is better than Henry, when Thierry himself was the same age.
Those comments were quickly justified in the 2016/17 season, Mbappe first full senior year, scoring his first senior hattrick a week shy of his 18th birthday in the cup and his first league hattrick quickly followed two months later.
Mbappe would also score his first ever Champions League goal in the 5-3 defeat to Manchester City, the second youngest French goalscorer in the competition behind Karim Benzema. Kylian would score again against City in a 3-1 reverse, his 11th goal in 11 games in all competitions, advancing to the quarterfinals on away goals. Mbappe became the youngest player in a generation to score 10 Ligue 1 goals, he was also the quickest, achieving it in just 888 registered game minutes. Mbappe would end his debut season with Monaco making 44 appearances, scoring 26 goals and 14 assists, securing Monaco’s first Ligue 1 title in seventeen years.
Becoming A Prince
The start of the 2017/18 season would bring about a surprising but familiar story. PSG wanted Mbappe and was willing to offer Monaco a blank cheque to get their boy, remember Kylian is still only 18 years of age, with only one full season under his belt. There was a stumbling block however, PSG had just completed the world record signing of Neymar (another Ballon d’Or contender) for £198m. The agreement would also see a bumper wage packet equalling £800k per week, PSG were close to breaching financial fair play for the three year period between January 2015 and 2018.
Monaco came to an agreement with PSG that Mbappe could leave on an initial loan deal, with a fee of £30m to be paid. A further purchase agreement was put in place, triggered by appearances, set at a staggering £145m. PSG was happy that this fee wouldn’t be triggered at any point before the end of 2017, keeping them within the fair play rules. The completion of this deal will make Mbappe the second most expensive transfer in history behind teammate Neymar, astounding that some players go their whole careers without commanding such a fee, Kylian had achieved it before his 19th Birthday.
The season is yet to end but Mbappe has made all the right moves so far toward becoming a world beater, appearing 39 times, scoring 19 and registering 17 assists in all competitions, he put in a stellar performance this past weekend, scoring twice in a 2-1 win. Earlier in the season, he dominated a Bayern team in the group stages of the Champions League, setting up Cavani with a majestic backheel pass.
Even the unexpected absence of Neymar through injury is yet to unsettle the Frenchman, in fact, Mbappe has flourished, along with teammate Edison Cavani.
PSG currently sit top of Ligue 1 by 17pts and have reached the semi-finals of the Coupe de France. If Neymar is the king of Paris right now, Mbappe is surely the Prince.
Contender or Pretender
This is probably the hardest conclusion I’ll write for this series, as it’s hard to really make a case for or against his credentials as a future Ballon d’Or winner. Mbappe is just 2 full seasons into his career, but already he’s achieved so much. He’s set to win his second Ligue 1 title in as many years, making close to 100 senior appearances.
What stands out the most is the level of contribution to the team’s success Kylian provides, Mbappe is directly responsible for 80 goals in his career to date, whether he’s scoring the goal himself or setting up his teammates. This is not taking into account the fabled pass before the assist, that many statisticians are so quick to point to when a players value is not always obvious. If he continues at this rate over the next 10 years, he’ll be directly responsible for over 400 goals, some way short of Messi’s contribution in the same period, but then that is why Lionel has won 5 out of the last 10 awards. This is conjecture at best I realise, but I have very little to work with in terms of available data.
There are three key factors going against Mbappe in his quest for the greatest individual honour. One of them is his teammate, the other is the league and finally whether or not he can maintain the scintillating start to his career.
Neymar in many ways creates the same problem for Mbappe as Messi did for Neymar, how can you possibly hope to be the best player in the world, if you’re not the best player in your team. If transfer rumours are to be believed Neymar won’t see out his remaining 4 years in the French capital, perhaps providing an opportunity for Kylian to steal a march on nominations and ultimate victory.
The reason Neymar might be in a haste to leave may also prove to be the same reason why Mbappe will find it difficult to win the award. Playing for the best team in an average league won’t be enough for him to claim the prize outright, although Mbappe may still stand a chance if he were to remain at PSG and win The Champions League, perhaps even coupling it with international success (Which may come sooner than many think).
The third-factor in-play is how consistent Kylian can continue to be over a much longer period of time. We’ve seen bright stars come and go and be remembered as nothing more than a flash in the pan. Michael Owen springs to mind, coincidentally a Ballon d’Or winner himself very early on in his career, who failed to maintain his dominance later in his career.
Mbappe then has achieved so much, and yet still has so much to prove. It’s not unreasonable to assume Kylian as a future winner of The Ballon d’Or but at the same time, if he crashes and burns in the next season or two, he’ll be remembered as a very expensive flop and chief amongst the teenage sensations with unfulfilled potential.
Thank you for reading as always, follow me on twitter @darrenbutler87 and @byfarblog for daily Football content.