There are two names that will likely dominate the summer transfer window: Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. At 22 and 20 respectively, they’re the two most exciting talents in football; proven goal scorers with the world at their Mercurial Vapors. If reports are to be believed, the best teams in Europe are lining up to obliterate their transfer records to sign either one of them.
But what do the players think of each other? With Euro 2020 in sight, Esquire sat down with Mbappe for the July/August issue, and asked for the French World Cup-winner’s verdict on his Norwegian counterpart. Here’s an excerpt from the piece.
Does Mbappé compare himself with the other great forward of his generation, Borussia Dortmund’s Norwegian Erling Braut Haaland? Mbappé’s reply sounds a touch patronising: “It’s his second year, we’re getting to know him. It’s the start for him. I’m happy for him, for what he’s doing.”
Patronising maybe, competitive definitely – after all, he understands the benefits of healthy rivalry. Talking about incredible twin legacies of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and how comparisons can push you forward in your career, he said:
“You do always compare yourself with the best in your sport, just as the baker compares himself with the best bakers around him. Who makes the best croissant, the best pain au chocolat? I watch matches of other great players to see what they’re doing. ‘I know how to do this, but can the other guy do it too?’ I think other players watch me, too. I think that pushes players to raise their game, just as Messi was good for Ronaldo and Ronaldo was good for Messi.”
He calls the pair of them “incomparable”, but he didn’t let Messi intimidate him when PSG arrived at the Camp Nou in the Champions League in February. “The best match of my career,” Mbappé says, “because it was complete. I helped my team both offensively and defensively, and I succeeded in the creation and finishing of my moves, in one-against-ones. I won 90 per cent of my duels, if that stat is correct. All match, I never had a moment when I felt extinguished.”
At the end of the day, it all comes down to self belief. “In high-level football, nobody will make a place for you or tell you that you’re capable of things. It’s up to you to persuade yourself that you are. Ego, self-love, isn’t just a caprice of stars. It’s also the will to surpass yourself, to give the best of yourself.” Every time he walks onto the field, he says, he tells himself, “I’m the best.”
This story is from the July/Aug issue of Esquire.
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