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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Kylian Mbappe – the man of the moment but with a long way still to go

To become a legendary player, the Frenchman will need to perform consistently season after season, standing out in the biggest matches.

Kylian Mbappe is in red-hot form as he prepares for France's Uefa Nations League game against Germany. AFP
Kylian Mbappe is in red-hot form as he prepares for France's Uefa Nations League game against Germany. AFP

Two months after becoming a World Cup winner with France, Kylian Mbappe remains the man of the moment.

The teenager, the second most expensive player in football history after his 2017 move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain, is on the cover of Time magazine’s current ‘Next Generation Leaders’ issue, only the fourth footballer in the magazine’s 95-year history.

“My life has been totally turned upside down,” he tells the American magazine. “I did not have the moments of so-called normal people during adolescence, like going out with friends, enjoying good times.”

From a virtual unknown to a man with 20 million Instagram followers in two years, Mbappe insists he is enjoying the ride. He certainly looks like he is.

Playing alongside Neymar and Edinson Cavani in a stellar attack, he scored four goals in only 13 minutes last week against a Lyon team who had been good enough to beat Manchester City. The Parisian followed that up with two late goals for France as they came back to draw 2-2 with Iceland last Thursday.

France play an out of sorts Germany on Tuesday night in a Uefa Nations League game at the Stade de France, with the Germans hammered 3-0 by the Netherlands on Saturday. France and Germany drew 0-0 in Munich last month, with Germany the better side, but France are world champions and Mbappe is their most exciting player.

His rise has been meteoric and he is a nominee for the 2018 Ballon d’Or after winning the World Cup and helping PSG to a domestic treble, but Mbappe might have ended up in England.

At 16, he was recommended to Leicester City, but the lead was not followed up. Chelsea watched him more closely and he went to London, before deciding that he did not have the required work rate to make it in the Premier League.

Manchester City were always keen, but Mbappe was not happy going back to England after his Chelsea experience. City later bid for him and there was interest from Real Madrid and Barcelona for the Clairefontaine graduate.

Chelsea were wrong.

Mbappe already had the X-factor and he was so fast he could have had after burners attached to his legs. He is direct, dynamic and he can finish.

Intelligent, too - Mbappe does not feel that he needs an agent outside his family to negotiate on his behalf. He donated his fee for winning the World Cup to charity and is very close to his family.

“I have learned that the biggest stars and the greatest players are the most humble ones, the ones who respect people the most,” he told Time. “There are three criteria: respect, humility and lucidity.

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"My mother has always told me that to become a great football player, you must be before all a great man.”

Mbappe stayed in France and signed professional at Monaco before moving his family from Paris, the city which produces more top footballers than any other on the planet.

Paul Pogba, Benjamin Mendy, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Lucas Digne, Nicolas Anelka, Moussa Sissoko, Blaise Matuidi, Adrien Rabiot, Kingsley Coman, Thierry Henry, Anthony Martial and Patrice Evra all grew up in Paris, most of them in the football factories on the outskirts of the city.

Most also had to leave Paris to get their break in football. Mbappe headed south to Monaco and the decision was vindicated as he broke into Monaco’s first team as their youngest ever player at 16 years 347 days in December 2015.

In the following season, he was the star as Monaco reached the Uefa Champions League semi-final and won Ligue 1. Mbappe scored 26 goals in 44 matches.

The lure of PSG and a return to his home city was too strong and he is loved by the fans at Parc de Princes. “Kylian MBappe! Kylian MBappe! Kylian Mbappe!” they sing under the thick concrete roof in one of Paris’ best arrondissements or administrative divisions.

It is not just the vocal fans behind the goal – the directors were singing for Mbappe against Lyon last week. It is a world away from where he grew up on the outskirts of the city, the son of a Cameroonian father and a mother of Algerian origin.

Mbappe has played 25 times for France, scoring 10 goals. He has already reached the top while still a teenager, winning the World Cup, a trophy so many greats have not lifted. Yet to be considered a legendary player, he will need to perform consistently season after season, standing out in the biggest matches.

A competition home game against Germany on Tuesday night is not a bad one in which to continue his spectacular form.