Straight outta sandbox, right into the world of luxuries.
Montpellier, 20th minute, 1-0 for the visitors. Djibril Sidibé makes a clearance in his own third. The ball finds Benjamin Mendy, who sends a nicely weighted pass in-behind the homes side’s defence. 39-years old veteran, Vitorino Hilton, doesn’t even try to win a sprinting contest and the kid bursting from behind his back puts his first 2017 goal away.
Stade Louis II, game against Metz, 7th minute. A through ball from João Moutinho lands on Radamel Falcao’s head, who instantly plays it into the space. The kid standing there escapes marking completely and half-volleys it past Thomas Didillon. Thirteen minutes later, Fabinho sends a long ball across half of the pitch and the kid cuts inside from the left to make it two. The show is not over yet: five minutes into the second half, Mendy’s pass picks out Gabriel Boschilia who wins a dribble, slips in his young teammate in-behind Metz’s defenders and the kid scores a calm, technical finish to complete his hat-trick.
Manchester, 40th minute, the away day against City in the Champions League. Fabinho pretty much emulates what he’s done ten days earlier. The over-the-top pass lands between John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi so that the kid, positioned exactly the right way to escape both of those defenders, is able to land a powerful finish in the roof of the net.
Back to Monaco, for a match against Nantes. Bernardo Silva’s early, brilliant run might not be working, as his long shot is blocked – but the rebound off the visitors’ left-back is still picked up by the kid. He tries a bouncing volley and scores. Right after the second-half restart, the Portuguese playmaker lumps a cross into the box and the kid is there again, escaping Léo Dubois and heading his way into a brace.
One week later. An important clash with dangerous Bordeaux side. The hosts are piling up the pressure, but of no avail – until the kid scores from Falcao’s smart layoff after the Colombian controls a corner pass. It’s not a powerful shot or a cute finish – just a deft exploitation of Cédric Carrasso’s poor positioning. It helps the hosts to a 2-1 win.
Fast-forward four days, to the Manchester City rematch. The kid nearly scores inside just seven minutes, when he does everything right but Willy Caballero parries his shot brilliantly. Few seconds later, the visitors ain’t so lucky anymore: following Benjamin Mendy’s and Bernardo Silva’s heroic efforts, the kid taps-in a low cross to give his side a deserved lead. It’s precisely this strike that inspires a 3-1 victory and a promotion to an UCL quarterfinal.
Another four days later… In Caen, the locals are only able to survive for thirteen minutes. Jemerson’s long pass through the middle finds the kid, he plays a one-two with Germain and, once again, escapes into space. The return pass isn’t the best and sends the youngster too wide, but he manages to turn both Syam Ben Youssef and Alaeddine Yahia and bag a goal anyway. At the start of the second half, it’s his run that results with Damien Da Silva’s foul and a penalty, converted by Fabinho. In the dying minutes, Moutinho crosses it for a free header and the kid effortlessly seals his second brace of the season.
Bender gutted, Dortmund stunned as Monaco’s semifinal is near.
Dortmund, yesterday. After seventeen minutes, the kiddo’s trademark run results in Sokratis’ foul and a penalty. Fabinho misses his big chance, but it does not phase the youngster at all, as he knees Lemar’s cross into the net just 120 seconds later, from offside. The referees do not react to the breach of the rules at all and it’s 0-1. Later, with just 10 minutes remaining and the 1-2 scoreline in favour of the visitors, the kid picks up a gift from Piszczek, escapes sliding Sokratis and easily finishes the one-on-one with Roman Bürki. Another brace; another resounding victory.
That’s just a brief log of Kylian Mbappé’s goalscoring actions in the last four months. It doesn’t take his fruitless runs in the account; it doesn’t take most of the dribbles won or aggressive, final-third presence he’s having in Monaco’s counterattacking 4-4-2 system. He is quick, he is smart, he loves the passes played into space and high-style defensive lines he can rip through. With 12 Ligue 1 goals scored from just 37 shots he boasts better conversion rate (32.4%) than both Edinson Cavani (25.6%) and Alexandre Lacazette (30.7%) – two forwards the world’s been looking at and taking notes whenever it was the time to scout French top division.
What does it all mean? Well, first of all, the kid seems destined for the Premier League. With a blistering pace, above-his-age confidence in front of the goal and a visible determination to make an impact regardless of the unfortunate circumstances, England should welcome him with open arms – potentially, this summer. Even though the kid in question laments the holes in his game and rubbishes links with several big clubs – we all know his future is not at an empty, tiny stadium in a second-rate league he’s in now.
This, however, raises even more questions. The vast majority of English clubs are using only a single striker, whereas Mbappé thrives on a partnership with either Radamel Falcao or Valère Germain. If we were to find a side that perfectly complements both the formation and the tactics that suit the youngsters abilities, it would have to be Leicester – and Leicester are not nearly big enough to attract this lad’s attention.
As of the giants – this summer, the proper “big” clubs may not have too many first-team job openings. Over-achieving Spurs are satisfied with Harry Kane; Chelsea could keep Diego Costa as their lone #9 and even if they don’t, there’s Alexis Sánchez reportedly lining up for that spot. Manchester City have already put their faith in Gabriel Jesus, so even if Sergio Agüero leaves Etihad, there will be a young, class forward to take over his duties. Liverpool have a high-functioning system of three forwards, so during the vacation months, they should focus on providing their squad with depth rather than on reinventing the wheel.
That leaves Arsenal and Manchester United. With their recent misfortunes and the growing sense of dissatisfaction with the results, both Devils and Gunners may be prompted to do a major revamping of their squads. Zlatan Ibrahimović, though excellent this season, has still refused to reveal his future at Old Trafford; at the same time, Emirates will probably bid farewell wishes to both Sánchez and Olivier Giroud. In both cases, securing the signature of a 18-years old sensation would make a powerful statement regarding the clubs’ intentions.
But even those directions are not without risk. Arsène Wenger’s new, two-year contract is just around the corner, after all. The players are not particularly willing to play for him; not anymore. The team is not progressing either, so it might be a struggle for a teen player to find his mojo there. In terms of quality and future prospects, Manchester United seem far more interesting. Unfortunately, Mbappé has to take what happened to Anthony Martial into account. The subject of 2015, £36 million-plus-addons transfer has been dumped on the wing, marginalised and finally, benched. Should his younger colleague follow the same path – it’d be a horrendous waste of talent.
Today, the lad has the luxury of time. There are two more years left on his Monaco contract and the next season could further boost his market value, as well as clarify the opportunities of getting a regular place in bigger sides. Having a similar skillset to that of Thierry Henry is obviously a huge asset in itself but let’s not forget that even Henry looked as if he was going to have all his potential wasted at Juventus in 1999.
Another question is the transfer fee itself. About seven weeks ago, Monaco executives insisted that £51 million price tag is a bare minimum they’d start the negotiations from. Since that day, the kid has scored 8 goals in 8 appearances, cemented Monaco’s lead in Ligue 1, advanced to the Champions League quarterfinal and scored an away brace in it. That has to mean something. Quite likely, it will mean that only the greatest of greats will be emptying their war chests to lure Mbappé. After all, lineup-wise, both Bayern and Real Madrid seem to have a slot for the teenage prodigy.
Mbappé’s fate might not just determine the fate of Monaco or of the future French national football team; it could determine the fate of Premier League’s stature. Because at the moment, the money is on the islanders’ side – yet the sporting success remains in the continent’s hands.
What the kid’s choice will be? Either way, baring a gruesome injury, he’s all set to break Martial’s record fee ever paid for a teenage footballer.