Kylian Mbappe: The most talked about young footballer in 2017
22nd February 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
“He is the talk of the town and has so much talent. He has skills, goals, assists. He can do what he wants with the ball.”
Writing in his regular column for The Sun, Former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry was effusive in his praise of Monaco youngster Kylian Mbappe.
The 18-year-old forward is the hot topic of European football right now, with the biggest and richest clubs on the continent thought to be monitoring his progress.
A surprise inclusion in Monaco’s starting line-up against Manchester City in the Champions League last night, the teenager produced his devastating best form, netting his first goal in Europe’s premier club competition on arguably the biggest night of his young career.
Having progressed through the ranks at the Principality club as the ex-France striker did in the late 1990s, Mbappe has drawn inevitable comparisons to Henry, but the Gunners legend has encouraged the youngster to pursue his own path in professional football.
“I know people have called him ‘the new Thierry Henry’ but I don’t like those tags. He needs to be him and just be the best he can be.
“I’ve met Mbappe and he’s a nice lad with a good head on his shoulders. He is very respectful and quite quiet. But give him the ball and he talks and he isn’t very nice anymore!”
Indeed, Henry’s former manager Arsene Wenger, rarely drawn into discussing players linked with moves to Arsenal, couldn’t help himself from doling out praise for the exciting Mbappe.
“He is not exactly Thierry Henry but it is true that he has similar qualities and the future and talent is similar,” Wenger told the Ligue 1 show.
“The potential is similar, after that if he has the same level of motivation, desire and intelligence that Thierry has, and the next two to three years will tell us that, then he can be very promising.
“The guys that have super talent are already playing at 18. Those who are not playing at 18 or 19 do not have that exceptional talent and he does play over here at the top level. He is a guy who is electric like Thierry was, can dribble, can pass and is efficient.
“We follow him, we know him very well, and he is developing well. He extended his contract with Monaco last season and so it’s Monaco who are going to decide his future. He could be another Thierry Henry.”
High praise indeed, yet it doesn’t flatter Mbappe. Few teenage starlets would be able to truly justify such hype, but the Monaco superstar-in-the-making really does seem destined for the summit of world football.
And he has already broken many of the records that Henry set during his early career in Ligue 1, not least by confining the former Barcelona striker to second place in the history books in respect of being the youngest debutant and goal-scorer for Monaco.
His first-team bow came against Caen last season aged 16 years 347 days, and he bagged his maiden goal for the club two months later.
Last summer, shortly after Les Bleus came up short in the European Championships final on home soil, Mbappe shone in the under-19s incarnation of the competition, helping the France youth side go one better than their senior counterparts by lifting the trophy.
The dynamic attacker was dazzling throughout the tournament, starring in particular in the 3-1 semi-final victory of Portugal, and the 4-0 demolishing of a talent-rich Italy side in the final.
This season, Mbappe’s progression appears to have accelerated yet further, as, despite his tender years, his increasingly impressive cameo appearances will soon see him become an undisputed starter within Leonardo Jardim’s side.
Featuring either on the left wing or centrally as a striker, the 18-year-old has proven himself to possess the most coveted attribute within any young player: end product.
Many hotly-tipped prospects enthral with beguiling moments of skill and invention, yet they often frustrate in equal measure by too regularly failing to make the correct pass, or overplaying when a simpler approach would have been the better solution, let down by their still-developing decision making.
Not Mbappe. In 26 appearances this term – six of which have come from the substitutes’ bench – the Monaco man has scored an impressive 12 goals while also registering five assists.
Blessed with the kind of pace that strikes fear into opposing defenders — who, with time, will turn sheet-white at the prospect of having to mark the Frenchman — Mbappe’s control while moving at speed is one of the key facets of his game which sets him apart.
In that regard, he is very much reminiscent of a young Henry; the way he is able to glide through the inside-left channel, leaving a trail of flailing defenders in his wake, yet still have the wherewithal to locate a team-mate and the ability to stop on a sixpence and execute a pass or an accurate shot, recalls images of the former Gunners hero in his Highbury pomp.
One area in which Mbappe’s development outstrips that of a young Henry is that his finishing ability already appears to be of a much more refined level than the now-retired former French international’s was at the same stage of his career.
Indeed, Henry didn’t reach double figures for goals in a single season until his third campaign in the Monaco first-team, and his 10 strikes in that 1996-97 term came from 38 appearances.
With the world at his feet, Mbappe is already attracting interest from some of the biggest clubs around the continent, and Monaco will have to exercise their resolve in order to retain their gifted new star, with huge bids likely to land at their door this summer.
But, for now at least, Mbappe seems content to continue his development in Ligue 1. Indeed, last year, before penning his first professional contract with the club, Real Madrid tried to steal the teenage prodigy away to the Spanish capital.
Despite having followed Los Blancos as a boy, Mbappe shunned their advances, recognising that playing time would be much easier to come by at the Stade Louis II, and staying put was the best decision for his long-term progress.
That kind of forethought and intelligence is not out of character for the youngster, who, for all of his natural gifts, is a student of the game and watches match after match during his spare time, analysing and learning from others.
“He’s more than passionate [about football] – he’s crazy,” said the player’s father, Wilfried, who is a football coach by trade. “I work in football and he almost puts me off it because he’s always into it 24/7. He watches everything; he can watch four or five matches in a row.”
With time, Mbappe will settle into either a left-wing or striker’s role, rather than splitting his time between the two, and the decision over which position he eventually nails down will be crucial to his prospects.
But, either way, he has the potential to become a world class player. With his raw talent and intelligence, the sky is the limit.