The Kylian Mbappé Story, In Seven Moments

·5-min read
Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU - Getty Images
Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU - Getty Images

Everything Kylian Mbappé does happens quickly. He's 22 years old, and he's been one of the best footballers in the world for nearly a fifth of his life. He's one of the most famous and recognisable people on the planet, but he carries it with the grace of a man who's been doing this for decades.

It all feels like it's happened in fast-forward, but if we slow it down and look at a few moments in his life so far, it's a little easier to compute exactly where he came from and where he might go next.

Photo credit: Nathaniel Goldberg
Photo credit: Nathaniel Goldberg

A very early start

Mbappé grew up in the Paris banlieue of Bondy, about six miles from the centre of the city. His mum, Fayza, was an accomplished handball player. His dad, Wilfried, was a player and coach at local club AS Bondy, and as a toddler Mbappé would roam around the club.

"When we played games, just before kick-off you'd see a two-year-old walk in with a ball and he'd sit with us to listen to the team talks," Bondy president Atmane Airouche recalled to the BBC. "I think [Mbappé is] the player here who must have heard the record number of pre-match team talks."

Everything is a goal

Photo credit: AFP Contributor - Getty Images
Photo credit: AFP Contributor - Getty Images

Imagine turning up for a kickabout at seven years old, and meeting seven-year-old Kylian Mbappé. Dribbling, anticipation, awareness, stepovers that make your head spin. How does he make his legs go like that? How does he always know what's going to happen?

"He always wanted to play in the living room," Bondy under-13s coach Antonio Riccardi told the BBC. He's only nine years older than Mbappé himself. The pair would play together, the teenager and the precocious, ludicrous little boy.

"The sofa or the table would be the goal. He'd say: 'Don't tell my mother, don't tell my father because they don't want me to play here. Please don't tell.' So we used to play and I kept that secret for him. Luckily he never broke anything."

From Bondy to Monaco

Photo credit: VALERY HACHE - Getty Images
Photo credit: VALERY HACHE - Getty Images

Mbappé signed for Monaco at 14, and forwent the usual distractions. "I think I might have missed out on something," he told Time magazine while becoming only the fourth footballer to grace its cover back in 2018. "I did not have the moments of so-called normal people during adolescence, like going out with friends, enjoying good times." What he did have was one of Thierry Henry's records. At 16 years and 347 days old, 88 minutes into a 1-1 draw with Caen, he became Monaco's youngest ever player.

From Monaco to France

Photo credit: FRANCK FIFE - Getty Images
Photo credit: FRANCK FIFE - Getty Images

However you feel about PSG, there is at least an unalloyed joy in seeing Mbappé play for France. His debut came at 18, when came on for Dimitri Payet with 78 minutes gone in a 3-1 World Cup qualifying win against Luxembourg in March 2017. The first goal wouldn't come until later that year, but the Mbappé who's a talent for the whole world to savour landed in this cameo.

Melting Marcos Rojo

In France's second round match against Argentina at the last World Cup, Mbappé shifted gears again. You've seen the run. Watch it again. Even for a man of Mbappé's continuum-warping speed, it's shockingly fast. With the game goalless, he picks up the ball about 35 yards from his own goal and sets off on a long arc toward the Argentina half. Then, suddenly, he's beyond it, he's carving toward goal, he's shattered an organised football team into spinning, confused atoms. Even as you're watching it, it doesn't look possible. Marcos Rojo is the last man left. In the end, he wilts and droops and collapses like he's made of candle wax. Everything else that came after at the World Cup – the win, the goal in the final, the torch-passing tweet from Pelé – was built on this moment.

Tactfully not dump-tackling a runaway child

Photo credit: Xavier Laine - Getty Images
Photo credit: Xavier Laine - Getty Images

During a game against Amiens just before Christmas 2019, a kid jumped the hoardings at the Parc des Princes and sprinted towards Mbappé. The kid got to his hero just before security did, and rather than handing the youth over, Mbappé gave him a hug and signed his autograph book while walking him off the pitch. Maybe he was mindful that he had been that kid only a few years before, the one who plastered his bedroom with posters of Cristiano Ronaldo. Maybe the optics of putting a preteen into a half-nelson felt a little suboptimal. Either way, a nice touch.

Gerard Pique's trip into the cosmos

Photo credit: David Ramos - Getty Images
Photo credit: David Ramos - Getty Images

'Where am I?' thinks Gerard Pique. 'I must be somewhere.' He replays the last few seconds in his mind. He was coming across the Nou Camp pitch to stop Kylian Mbappé. He had the striker where he wanted him, shielding the ball with his body. Then he blinked and Mbappé was around him and the ball was gone and he had to do something anything to stop him oh god what there he goes.

He got a finger to Mbappé's shirt, and then he was here, floating through space.

'Perhaps', Pique thinks, 'the time-space vortex Mbappé's turn of speed created has pulled me into a wormhole.' He floats past a pulsing nebula, and stares past it into the deep void. He considers. 'I really hope this doesn't become a meme,' he thinks.

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