Kylian Mbappe needs no introduction.
After bursting onto the scene with a refreshing Monaco side who managed to briefly break Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance on the French football scene by winning the Ligue 1 title in 2016-17, the 19-year-old perhaps inevitably left the principality for the capital of France in a move believed to be worth around €180m last summer – though he did initially arrive at the Parc des Princes on loan as Les Parisiens tried to comply with Financial Fair Play requirements.
Linking up with soon-to-be World Cup foes Edinson Cavani and Neymar, Mbappe helped PSG steamroll all before them domestically but couldn’t drag them to business end of the Champions League, the prize the club’s owners have craved for some time.
The wondrous teenager scored 21 goals and provided 11 assists in his debut season in Paris, and he will be hoping to add the grandest trophy of all to his silverware-laden campaign with France, who boast arguably the best squad out of the 32 countries set to do battle in Russia.
With Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps partial to using Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann through the middle of his attack, Mbappe will likely take his place on the right wing, the position he has predominantly operated in for PSG.
His rapier-like speed will cause an immediate headache for any left-back that has the thankless task of trying to contain him, while his dribbling precision and already well-developed footballing brain ensure that Mbappe is anything but a one-trick pony, which his goals in a recent friendly against Russia in March undoubtedly proved.
Operating in a central role, Mbappe timed his run between Russia’s centre-backs perfectly before cutting inside and rifling a low shot past the helpless Andrey Lunev. He then doubled his tally with a sublime piece of skill that bamboozled Roman Neustadter before firing between Lunev’s legs.
It remains to be seen if the former Chelsea trialist can replicate the performance he put in against the Russia on football’s biggest stage, but at the same time there is no reason to think he cannot have a similar impact to the one Ronaldo made at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Like Mbappe, ‘O Fenomeno’ was blessed with great pace, dribbling and finishing. He also had a great footballing brain and the innate ability to beat a whole defensive block with one cleverly timed run.
Ronaldo had more of a physical edge, but persisting knee trouble stemming back from 1995 meant the former Real Madrid and Barcelona superstar had to play through pain as he dragged the Selecao to the final.
Mbappe has not been lumbered with such troubling physical ailments, and the relative lack of spotlight on him means he can go about his business without the added pressure of being the tournament’s poster boy – something Ronaldo had to cope with 20 years ago.
France have arguably one of the hardest groups to contend with in Russia with Denmark, Peru and Australia all lying in wait. But in Mbappe, already one of Europe’s elite attackers at the age of 19, they possess a truly generational talent capable of emulating the great Zinedine Zidane’s marvellous exploits two decades on.
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