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Kylian Mbappé: a player as talented as he is enigmatic

Kylian Mbappé: a player as talented as he is enigmatic
Kylian Mbappe of France (C) in action during the FIFA World Cup 2022 quarter final soccer match between England and France at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 10 December 2022. EPA-EFE/Tolga Bozoglu

The French forward is a polarising figure, but he remains the key to France potentially retaining their World Cup crown.

“Kylian is basically one of the best players I’ve played with,” France’s all-time leading goal scorer Olivier Giroud said in a recent press conference. “He is amazing and is still young. Which is scary, as he can still improve.”

Giroud was speaking about his partner in defender destruction, Kylian Mbappé. The duo have been scintillating at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, combining on numerous occasions on the way to helping France get to the semifinals.

“He is very efficient and, from the beginning of the competition, he’s been crucial for us – very decisive, very competitive. He’s obviously the best striker I’ve played with in all of the teams I’ve played in,” continued Giroud, who plays for AC Milan in Italy.

Between the two of them, the French strike force have nine goals so far in Qatar, with Mbappé netting five times and adding two assists. Giroud has four goals to his name – a return which has seen him usurp Arsenal legend Thierry Henry as France’s all-time top scorer.

According to the 36-year-old forward, Mbappé, who is 13 years his junior, still has even more to offer.

Record breaker

“We’ve not seen the best of him. I hope it’s going to come soon and he will beat all the records. I know that and you know it as well,” said Giroud.

One record already on the horizon is that of all-time top scorer in Fifa men’s World Cups.

As it stands, Mbappé has now scored nine World Cup goals across the 2018 edition and the Qatar showpiece. This over 12 matches.

The current holder of the record is Germany’s Miroslav Klose. The sharpshooter netted 16 goals from 24 World Cup appearances, which spanned four tournaments.

With his current haul in Qatar, Mbappé has set himself up to try to usurp that record in the 2026 showpiece – which will be co-hosted by the US, Mexico and Canada.

The Frenchman has now also surpassed Cristiano Ronaldo, who currently has eight World Cup goals to his name and is tied with Lionel Messi, who has nine.

If the French make it to the final in Qatar, it is likely that Mbappé will make more strides in his pursuit of further etching his name in global football in the blue shirt ​​of France.


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As it stands, the only players with more goals than the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) forward at a single men’s World Cup before turning 24 are Brazil’s Pelé, Argentine Mario Kempes and Colombia’s James Rodríguez. The trio all netted six times before the age of 24. It is a record 23-year-old Mbappé may very well topple in Qatar.

Polarising figure

Mbappé is undoubtedly the crown jewel of the French side and, at his young age, already one of the custodians of football in the imminent post-Messi, post-Ronaldo era.

However, since he burst on to the scene as a 17-year-old with French league side Monaco and drew as much attention for being a doppelgänger of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as for his fleet-footedness, Mbappé has been an enigmatic figure.

As France bombed out at the Covid-19-delayed Euro 2020, which took place in 2021, Mbappé was painted as a bad apple. His sulking antics throughout the continental tournament reportedly destabilised the French camp en route to their shock round-of-16 exit at the feet of Switzerland.

Just over a year later, those memories have been eradicated and the French players seem as thick as thieves.

Club troubles

At club level, though, the story has been different. With Mbappé, Messi and Brazilian superstar Neymar all occupying the same dressing room, Mbappé is sometimes expected to take a back seat in respect of his two seniors.

This is something he has sometimes failed to do since the trio was brought together by PSG’s Qatari contingent of owners.

This may be because, in a football environment where money is becoming increasingly influential, the French forward is the highest-paid player in the world. He is also the second most expensive player in football in history, behind Neymar.

Just over five years ago, the Frenchman joined PSG, initially on loan, from Monaco. That was before making the move permanent a year later for €180-million.

It remains the second most expensive football transfer in history. The only deal that cost more was Neymar’s €222-million move to PSG from Barcelona a year before Mbappé permanently moved to Paris.

Mbappé has gone on to score 190 goals in 237 games for the French champions. During his time in the French capital, he has won four league titles in five seasons.

However, since legend Messi joined Mbappé and Neymar at PSG in 2021, the young French superstar has been accused of creating division in the dressing room.

“Mbappé is a phenomenon who has not yet understood that those who play with him in attack are bigger phenomena than him. A great player must always know and understand who he plays with; your teammates enrich your qualities,” former PSG defender Dani Alves told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

The decorated former Barcelona right-back continued, describing Messi and Neymar as “geniuses”, before adding: “When I played with Leo, I would give the ball to him. And if I play with Ney, I would also give it to him. If Mbappé gave the ball to those two, he would score 150 goals.”

Despite his polarising personality, there is no doubting Mbappé’s talent and ability. If France hopes to become just the third nation to defend the World Cup crown (alongside Italy and Brazil), he will be crucial.

“He can expose defenders one-on-one with his pace. But I think the fact he has played in different forward positions for his club [PSG] has helped to make his game more rounded,” former Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba told the BBC regarding Mbappé.

All eyes are on Mbappé in Qatar and opponents are working feverishly on strategies to nullify the huge threat he poses. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168
newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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