Lionel Messi's hold on Golden Shoe not secure as Kylian Mbappe looks to prove point with one last charge
The French striker can draw level with the Barcelona forward if he nets four times on Friday against Reims for Paris Saint-Germain
Last October, less than three months after he had scored the fourth goal for the winning side in the World Cup final, and still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Kylian Mbappe set another personal milestone: four goals in a single match.
And not just a single match, either. He crammed them into less than quarter of an hour. Between his first for Paris Saint-Germain against Lyon and No 4, barely 13 minutes passed.
Not just any old match, either. PSG were down to 10 men and Lyon are probably the club better equipped, in terms of resources, than any to put up a fight against the swaggering domination of French football by the wealthy Parisians.
On Wednesday night, at a fund-raising event organised by PSG, a match ball from that game was put up for auction. Mbappe can spare it. He will collect many more match balls in his career.
He has three hat-tricks in Ligue 1 this season among his 32 goals, the highest tally for any French striker in the country’s top division since 1966. He will very likely score four in a game, too, in the years he has ahead of him.
In the back of his mind, he admits, he has it as a target for today’s final fixture of the campaign.
Four goals, you see, would catch Mbappe up with Lionel Messi’s imposing total of 36 for Barcelona in La Liga, a tally boosted with a double against Eibar last weekend on the Spanish’s league last day.
Like PSG, Messi’s Barca had cantered to the title weeks earlier, but Messi had another prize to chase: he leads the Golden Shoe rankings, the award for the highest goalscorer in Europe’s league season. Mbappe is his nearest chaser.
The Frenchman is also a frustrated chaser. His league goals have come at a better per-minute ratio than Messi’s and while there is clear argument that la Liga is a tougher place for strikers than Ligue 1, Mbappe is entitled to believe he could well be within closer grasp of the Golden Shoe if he had not missed a large portion of the season. He was suspended for seven of the 37 fixtures so far.
Two red cards - one of them in the lost Cup final against Rennes - and six yellows were the cause of that, and they are reminder that there are still symptoms of immaturity in Mbappe, the most thrilling, precocious player of his generation.
There are also clear signals of restlessness. Mbappe displayed them with studied deliberation last Sunday night when he collected the French players’ union award for Ligue 1 Player of the Year.
In his acceptance speech, he spoke of his feeling at a career “crossroads”, and he desire for “more responsibility”.
The remarks caused the stir intended. The ripples spread quickly to Madrid. Real Madrid offered Mbappe a contract there two years ago, when he was spearheading Monaco to the Ligue 1 title as an 18-year-old.
He went to PSG instead that summer, believing first-team minutes would be better guaranteed there.
They have been, but Mbappe would like his status as the club’s leading scorer to be better acknowledged. He may be only 20, but he wants to be regarded as a senior player in a club hierarchy where there are number of influential veterans - led by the Brazilians Thiago Silva and Dani Alves - and a figurehead superstar, Neymar.
He is also understood to want a greater say in tactical planning, and a more defined role at the front of the PSG forward line.
He would certainly like to be more than third-choice penalty taker, behind Neymar and Edinson Cavani. More spot-kick rights would very likely have moved him nearer to Messi’s tally of league goals in 2018-19.
Another season of Champions League dissatisfaction at PSG - they were eliminated by Manchester United after claiming a 2-0 lead in the first, home leg - has also led Mbappe to question whether France’s leading club, where has a contract until 2023, is the one that will best complement his long-term ambitions.
There are blessings to playing in a Ligue 1 where the superpowered champions can beat the likes of Guingamp 9-0 (there was an Mbappe hat-trick, plus three goals for centre-forward Edinson Cavani and a double for Neymar that day) but growing evidence that it is not the best arena to maintain a sharp competitive edge at the highest level of club football. PSG have now left the Champions League before the quarter-finals for three years in succession.
This evening, at Reims, they could set some new landmarks for domestic pre-eminence. Five PSG goals would take them past their own record - 108, set last season - for the most goals in a Ligue 1 campaign.
If that target starts to look viable, no one should be in any doubt which PSG player will have the strongest desire to be put himself in the best scoring positions.
Updated: May 24, 2019 08:35 AM