Neil Humphreys: Mbappe knows his time is now
French star set to end Ronaldo and Messi's duopoly on world football
In a recent interview, Kylian Mbappe was asked to pick a celebrity he'd like to be. His reply was priceless.
He's already Kylian Mbappe, he said. That's more than enough.
The Frenchman wasn't being particularly brash, just stating an incontestable fact. Why would the world's greatest young footballer want to be anyone else?
But he's only half-right. He's halfway to paradise, currently standing somewhere between prodigious talent and those immortals at the top of the mountain. He's a cocky kid scampering towards the G.O.A.T.
He's not there yet.
Mbappe has one World Cup winner's medal more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but they owned a generation. The past belonged to them. The future depends entirely on the Prince of Paris.
In the lead-up to France's Nations League game against Holland tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the teenager has dominated discussion.
Les Bleus teammate Blaise Matuidi compared Mbappe to Ronaldo and Messi, emphasising their similarities in terms of personality and temperament. They share an unshakeable belief in their own ability.
Mbappe's self-confidence rivals his astonishing pace. He has bags of the stuff, enough to scamper away from the most dogged opponents.
At 19, he devoured Messi's Argentina for fun, dashing past the South Americans so often, the space-time continuum appeared to be turned upside down. It was a boy against men. And the boy won. Every time.
He ended the World Cup with four goals and picked up the kind of teenage accolades not seen since Pele. After the tournament, the Brazilian sent Mbappe a simple, congratulatory note.
Welcome to the club.
But Mbappe isn't in the club. Not quite. Further refinements are still required.
The line between self-confidence and self-serving arrogance is a hazy one, almost impossible to define, but Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel had a go last month, when he dropped Mbappe from the biggest game of the domestic season.
On the eve of the Marseille-PSG Classique, Mbappe wandered in late for a team meeting. Tuchel benched his starlet as punishment. It was a reminder that the 19-year-old isn't the finished article.
A Ligue 1 title and a World Cup triumph are what Ballon d'Or dreams are made of, but the PSG striker still cannot legally buy alcohol in many countries.
Just three years ago, he made his debut for AS Monaco, aged 16 and 347 days. The game hasn't witnessed such a meteoric rise since Pele. But Pele got better. Winning the World Cup in 1958 didn't grant him entry to the G.O.A.T pen. Repeating the trick in 1962 and 1970 earned him immortality.
Despite Mbappe's astounding achievements, the next few years of his career will prove more important.
The World Cup made for a remarkable prologue, but Euro 2020 should really shape his narrative, with the Nations League a chance to refine his character along the way.
Like a young Ronaldo and fellow Monaco graduate Thierry Henry, Mbappe's speed and breathtaking ability to beat opponents - he leaves full-backs behind like a pop star fleeing groupies - make him an obvious winger now.
He lacks Ronaldo's rugged physicality in the air and Henry's consistency in front of goal, but only at the moment. Like both men, he will improve.
If the Darwinist principles of the modern game apply to the Frenchman, then Mbappe must evolve into the kind of striker that haunts defenders and dominates his generation.
His timing is close to perfect. Ronaldo and Messi are both in their 30s. The flame still burns, but it's flickering.
Neymar remains an enigma wrapped in greedy transfer deals and Eden Hazard can't quite match Mbappe's raw, explosive material.
At Russia 2018, he pulled off a rare feat. He dragged audiences towards that sweet spot, the edge of the seat, and he kept them there.
Mbappe already holds one of the world's richest clubs in the palm of his hand. PSG are still considered a rather crass enterprise, another fancy trinket for Qatari investors looking to buy some positive global PR.
But their brightest talent hails from the Parisian suburbs. He's one of their own. They'll be forced to move heaven and earth to keep him.
Mbappe is the future of France and possibly modern football itself. He took charge at the World Cup. Now it's time to take on the world.
- Tomorrow: Holland v France
- Tuesday: Germany v Holland