You can review the sleight-of-foot by Kylian Mbappe and remain none the wiser. In fact, the more you watch that moment from the France-Belgium World Cup semi-final, the more you wonder about the 19-year-old’s skills. Penned in by a couple of defenders, the teenaged sensation rolled the ball under his right foot and then confiscated everyone’s breath by scooping an outrageous back-heel to release Olivier Giroud on his right. It perhaps didn’t have the pinpoint accuracy of some of the back-heel mavericks like Francesco Totti or Alessandro Del Piero but the sheer audacity makes you wonder about the unfolding genius of Mbappe.
If it was his blinding speed that flickered against Argentina, his dextrous footwork and ingenuity stood out against Uruguay and Belgium. This makes him an even more lethal proposition for defensive adversaries. For, pace will be inevitably neutered or hampered by age and injuries. But speed allied with intelligence and craft is deadly. One by one, he’s showing off all the gifts in his bag, those that prompted the nouveau riche PSGians to shell out a whopping 166 million pounds for the then 17-year-old, a sum that could be doubled if Real Madrid flex their muscle to acquire his signature before the start of next year. But then you don’t often see a 19-year-old with a blend of skill, composure and awareness like Mbappe.
He has already invited comparisons with that great French touch artiste, Thierry Henry, for reasons more than football. Like Henry, he has African roots and was reared in a rough North Paris suburb. Mbappe has remained unaffected by such lofty comparisons but Henry considers Mbappe more talented than he was at 19. But he, like Henry, should remember that early potential wouldn’t necessarily guarantee footballing immortality. Much work — and magic — lies ahead.