The French great player has already established himself as one of the top players in game history.
Kylian Mbappé is the only player like him in the world right now.
Mbappé made his international debut in the 2018 World Cup when he was just 19 years old. He scored four goals during the competition, including an incredible goal in the championship game. Mbappé, who is still only a teenager, had already accomplished what had evaded some of the greatest players of all time when France won the World Cup.
Mbappé is the best player on a French squad that is incredibly talented and seeking to defend its World Cup championship four years later. However, after seeing him play over the past two weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mbappé is not simply another great or even world-class player—he is quickly emerging as one of the best players to have ever played the game.
Given that we’re talking about a 23-year-old, this might come off as hyperbole to some. As you read this, your eyes may be rolling. Clint, calm down, turn off the TV, and go for a walk, you could be thinking to yourself. I’ll admit that after typing this, I had to go back and make a few revisions to make sure I meant what I said. But it’s the case. We are witnessing a player that is on par with the greatest to ever play the game.
He is obviously still a young man. Of course, he still has more to accomplish and demonstrate. Of course, a player’s career is typically judged in part by how long it lasts rather than just by their best years (especially in this era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, athletes who have played at an elite level for 20 years). But if we are just talking about some of the greatest players to ever step foot on a field, Mbappé has further demonstrated that his name belongs there.
If you watch Mbappé play, you will see that a lot of his skill as a player transcends what can be evaluated empirically. Because he is nearly always the fastest player on the field, every player on the other side has to make split-second decisions once France receives the ball. He moves off the ball like a dragonfly, which causes defenders to move quickly forwards, backwards, and frequently in circles.
It’s how his opponents’ coaches will create elaborate game plans designed to stop him, forcing their teams to play in ways that are foreign to them and undermining their own advantages. It is how, when he receives the ball, he draws in multiple defenders—as they are aware that no single player could handle him alone—to create space for his other teammates, much like NBA superstar Steph Curry, whose most valuable quality, in my opinion, is not so much his magnificent jump shot as it is how the prospect of the aforementioned jump shot creates space for his teammates when he receives the ball.
The fact that Mbappé has already scored five goals in four games for the French squad to bring his World Cup total to nine goals over the course of two tournaments is noteworthy if we were to look at empirical data, particularly in the context of the World Cup.
He has more goals than many legendary players, including Diego Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez, Zinedine Zidane, Neymar, Thierry Henry, and many others, according to Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano. Lionel Messi has one more goal than Mbappé, but Messi is competing in his fifth World Cup while Mbappé is just in his second.
Let me just take a moment to remark that this is absurd.
Mbappé’s abilities were fully on display in France’s most recent round of 16 match against Poland. So much so that the FIFA YouTube channel created a video called “The Mbappe Show” that featured game highlights.
Mbappé assisted Olivier Giroud on France’s opening goal of the match, which Giroud scored to surpass my all-time favourite player, Thierry Henry, in career goals scored with 52. Ironically, Mbappé will very probably break that record if he stays fit, therefore it is ironic that he assisted Giroud in breaking it. Mbappé has already scored 33 goals with possibly another decade or more to play compared to Giroud’s 52 goals in 117 games in competitive competition.
The match’s opening goal, which Mbappé scored twice because, of course, he did, was representative of the many facets of his game and the extreme fear he inspires in opponents.
Ousmane Dembélé, a French winger, sprinted across the field from the right side in the 74th minute. To an open Mbappé at the top of the box, he sent the ball beyond a line of Polish defenders. For the casual watcher, what happened next was undoubtedly odd. The two Polish defenders in front of Mbappé appeared to approach him in slow motion as he received the ball before standing nearly motionless in front of him, like two deer standing in the middle of the road watching an approaching Ferrari.
Defenders clearly backed away from Mbappé because they knew that if they came too near, Mbappé would easily blast past them, thus it was odd to see them give the young player so much room. As a result, they remained, and Mbappé made them pay. Mbappé took three soft touches, gathered himself as though he had time to pack a carry-on for his journey back to Paris, and then unleashed a shot from 16 yards out that exploded into the goal.
I haven’t seen a player with Mbappé’s current combination of pace, technical skill, and bravery since the first Ronaldo, the Brazilian striker who scored 47 goals in 49 games during the 1996–97 season.
Mbappé plays alongside Messi at Paris Saint-Germain, who in my opinion is the greatest player to ever play the sport. It has been an enormous thrill to see him compete in this World Cup, which is probably his last, in part because he has demonstrated that, even at the age of 35, he is still an unrivalled talent.
Even yet, Messi’s ability to intimidate rival players at this point in his career is more akin to adoration than outright fear. Several Australian athletes waited outside Argentina’s locker room after Argentina’s round of 16 victory over Australia so they could snap selfies with him.
Erling Haaland, a 22-year-old Norwegian wonderkid who plays for English superpower Manchester City, is the only player in the world right now who might instil as much dread in his opponents as Mbappé does. Even yet, Haaland, whose country’s squad did not advance to the World Cup, is not as dynamic a player as Mbappé, who has the ability to appear to seize opportunities on his own.
This afternoon, when France takes on England in the World Cup quarterfinals, Mbappé will have the chance to further his legacy, which is, in many ways, still in its infancy. The idea that we are watching a player who is already the best in the world but who is probably not at the pinnacle of his abilities is amazing.
Fans and analysts might occasionally become preoccupied with speculation about a player’s ultimate destination that we fail to truly appreciate what is in front of us. Mbappé would already be a marvel even if he never played another game.