Kylian Mbappe has naturalised preternatural brilliance

Date published: Friday 25th October 2019 12:50 - Matthew Stead

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a young Frenchman who has risen quickly to become one of the finest strikers bestriding the planet. This is no mere ‘good’ player, this is a fully-formed, interstellar, elite football master. He started his career at Monaco and played in the fantastic 2016/2017 side before moving to PSG for a huge fee, making him the most expensive teenager ever. Only the never knowingly not annoying Neymar has commanded a bigger fee for any player at any age.

He made his international debut in 2017 at 18. He was the youngest French goalscorer in World Cup history at age 19. His perfect hat-trick this week – head, left and right – meant he became the youngest player to score 15 goals in the Champions League, beating Lionel Messi’s record. He has also scored five hat-tricks for PSG and one quadruple at an age when Messi had just one to his name.

His list of club, international and personal honours is already phenomenal, with three league titles and a World Cup. He must’ve won every ‘Young Player’ award from every organisation, too. Oh yes. Totally brilliant, absolutely thrilling young French striker?

That’ll be Kylian Mbappe, then.


What have they done to deserve this then?
On Tuesday PSG were playing Club Brugge away. Our man came on after 52 minutes and in the space of 22 more had scored a hat-trick.

It was classic Mbappe: a poacher’s header; a one-two, a surge of pace to get around the keeper and a clinical strike; and a super fast acceleration onto a through ball combined with another lethal finish. Each performed with a ruthless economy. He barely seems to even break a sweat. Everything is done with maximum efficiency and minimum effort.

Watch pretty much any of his 110 club and country goals (scored across 200 games) and time and again they are characterised by a nerveless, no-fear, shoot-on-sight ability and absolutely sizzling pace. But as if that wasn’t enough, while not the tallest at 5ft 10ins he is built so powerfully that, combined with his speed, it makes stopping him like tackling a speeding train. His body shape actually seems supremely bullet-like and aerodynamic. And to misquote David Coleman talking about Alberto Juantorena, when he opens his legs, he really shows his class.

While Neymar has proven to be emblematic of exactly how not to go about being a brilliant footballer, the boy Mbappe seems to live a more straightforward existence with his life dedicated to being stunningly good at football.

The endless ‘who is best?’ debates are largely a waste of breath and brain power, but Kylian is clearly one of, if not the finest, at doing what he does. He is obviously brimming with confidence when he’s bearing down on goal and I’m sure absolutely none of us expect him to miss pretty much ever.

That he can do this at still a couple of months short of being 21 is a preternatural phenomenon. Somehow it seems as though, for all his prominence for club and country, his is a talent that has quickly been assimilated and taken for granted. His breakthrough season at Monaco in 2016/17 brought him to our attention and blew us all away. Two years on, we’re totally used to him being brilliant, so much so that even a Champions League hat-trick in 22 minutes feels like normal life going on as normal.


Media reaction?
The Independent went for: ‘Kylian Mbappe breaks Lionel Messi Champions League record as PSG run riot’

The Mirror tried to make something out of him being benched by manager Thomas Tuchel with the following:

‘Kylian Mbappe admits Thomas Tuchel frustration despite Champions League hat-trick’

Of course, it was nothing more than a typical ‘player saying he wants to start every game’ story.

The Bleacher Report headlined its piece, ‘Neymar Praises ‘Incredible Kid’ Kylian Mbappe: ‘We Get Along Really Well’. Because it’s always about you isn’t it, Ney-sie?

90 Min were inspired to run a headline: ‘Real Madrid Tipped to Use Tried & Tested Method to Sign Kylian Mbappé From PSG’.

But, as you might imagine, it isn’t a ‘method’ at all, not unless buying a player by paying lots of money is any different to the norm. The world ‘could’ is used a lot too, which is the obvious cue to disregard the whole thing.

However, his performance doesn’t get a massive amount of coverage, only warranting a factual mention in The Guardian’s round-up. And it often seems to me that tabloids tend not to report much on anything foreign that isn’t Messi and Ronaldo, because overseas is a foreign country full of foreigners who only really matter when they play in England.


Anyone grumpy about it?
The only downside to this scoring feat is the fact that it will put a flame under the very boring transfer to Madrid talk. It now so often feels like the football doesn’t matter at all; only transfer rumours and valuations are of interest, only highly-priced goods in the football supermarket stir the blood, and the actual game itself takes a distant second place to this never-ending fantasy trolly dash.


What the people say
The very excellent commentator Steven Wyeth was working the Brugge v PSG game this week and he got in touch with a salient observation about our man’s performance that night:

‘Mbappe for Choupo-Moting felt like a substantial upgrade substitution when it was made, and the impact on the game was utterly devastating. With his pace, movement, anticipation, and quality of his finishing Mbappe turned what looked, at best, like being an uncertain 1-nil win into a drubbing. A perfect hat-trick in 22 minutes, plus an assist for the other second half goal. Football might be a team game but it was an astonishing example of the difference one player can make. Plus it was all done with joy and enthusiasm, and what’s not to like about that?’

‘Seems surprisingly well-grounded for someone elevated to such a high status whilst so young. Hope he does well.’

‘Comparing him to other young players to him is futile. They’re still young and inconsistent, whereas he already plays like the finished article. When you think about his alleged peers (Rashford, Pulisic, Dembele), they’re streets behind. Miles, in fact. So far behind it’s like he’s playing a different game. He’s a once in a generation player, really. Even Ronaldo and Rooney weren’t at his level at that age, I don’t think.’

‘Going to be a world class player. Makes Kane look like Brian McClair. Frightening pace and striker’s instinct. No-one in England will be able to afford him sadly. Heard he’s very humble but needs to leave PSG to continue his development.’

‘He is the first player in a generation who genuinely seems to be able to live up to the hype young players have heaped on them at such a young age.’

‘He’s the most exciting player that we’ve seen since Messi. He’s already one of the best players in the world, and his potential seems unlimited. So yeah, he’s good.’


What does the future hold?
He’s missed games with injury recently and we all have to hope that his body holds up in the coming years. So often players blessed with so much pace seem to snap important bits and have their cutting edge taken from them by repeated injuries. However, if he can follow the CR7 route and keep himself in peak condition, it seems almost inevitable that we can look forward to a decade of brilliance on the club, European and world stage.

He’s an easy player for everyone to like, his game being a simple one that is all about pace, anticipation and finishing. There are few better sights in football than seeing someone who can really accelerate past defenders to take a through ball, then burying it first time right in the corner. And all without a moment’s thought, like human flesh made into liquid machinery. It is exhilarating. Dribbling and intricate passing is all well and good, but nothing gets the heart thumping more than seeing an absolute exocet of a player burning up ground like the Road Runner on amyl nitrate. What’s more, it is almost impossible to defend against.

All of which means more tremendous football from the best young footballer on the planet will be our joy to behold in coming years. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Mbappe.

John Nicholson


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