The teenager equalled Pele’s record of scoring a brace in the FIFA World Cup as a teenager.
When Kylian Mbappe lapped up a loose ball on the edge of the French penalty box last Saturday against Argentina, one could assume what was going to happen. Les Bleus had set up to counter-attack and at around 11 minutes or so, one of their most exciting players was about to start one off. However, what transpired next was nigh impossible to believe.
In a matter of a split second, Mbappe had traversed the length of the pitch to be tripped by a flailing, diving Marcos Rojo in the Argentina box. The referee had no choice but to award a penalty to France, which Antoine Griezmann duly converted.
Watch: Kylian Mbappe’s goal against Argentina
Let us clarify something: most professional footballers are fast. They cover short distances with great speed and agility. Some of them are obviously, faster than others, a la Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale or Antonio Valencia. Mbappe, however, is not just fast; he is what you might call electric. With the ball at his feet, the 19-year-old is capable of playing the game at a pace your brain would have a hard time even comprehending.
Didier Deschamps has failed to do a lot of things right with the French side, but he has got one thing right, which is using the most expensive teenager in the world as a wide forward. Using his aforementioned, barely believable “Flash”-like pace, Mbappe ripped Argentina to shreds on Saturday. The world stood up and took note.
You may now argue that a master-class against the La Albiceleste is not really the right performance to judge a player’s calibre by. After all, which other top teams will have a washed-up Javier Mascherano, an inconsistent Rojo and Nicolas Otamendi in central defense?
But, make no mistake; it is not only his speed that has led to comparisons with Ronaldo ‘The Fenomeno’ and the Frenchman: it is also his style and technique.
The Brazilian used long strides, knocking the ball several feet forward while sprinting past defenders. He also had incredible close control and the ability to dribble past several players in one go, all the while keeping his head up to find the perfect spot beyond the goalkeeper’s reach. Blessed with an ability to read the game ahead of the players marking him and always finding space to run into, the Barcelona striker was one of the greatest forwards to ever play the game and also one of the most entertaining. Mbappe has all of these traits to an equal measure and then some.
When the Paris Saint-Germain forward is on the ball, you can always expect the unexpected. He does things few players dream of doing and fewer even can actually do it. He warps time and space like a wormhole, it becomes difficult to simply process and accept what he just did. Just like Ronaldo.
His finishing is just as impressive too, with both feet. If the brace against Argentina was an indicator of things to come, like Gary Neville predicted, you can expect the youngster to light up the tournament in a spectacular fashion.
However, things will only get tougher from here on. France face Uruguay next, and Mbappe will be up against Diego Godin, one of the best centre-backs of the last decade, so the challenge will be significantly more difficult. The Mundial can be his launching pad but he will also be wise to keep his head down and work hard right now. If he can avoid the pitfalls of the modern game,we can expect Mbappe to be an international superstar within the next few years.