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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Euro 2020: The world at Kylian Mbappe’s feet

With searing speed, enviable skill and voracious appetite for goals, the possibilities are infinite for Kylian Mbappe at UEFA Euro 2020.

Written by Sandip G |
Updated: June 15, 2021 12:04:54 pm
France's Kylian Mbappe in action against Wales in a pre-Euro friendly match. (Twitter/France)

It’s the speed that comes to mind when the name Kylian Mbappe is dropped. It was at the 2018 World Cup in Russia that the then 19-year-old showed the world that he was in a tearing hurry to be a global superstar. In the chaotic Round of 16 encounter against Argentina, searing through the heart of the midfield, Mbappe had his arms outstretched for balance, head pulled back while his legs whirred. Marcos Rojo, grasping at shadows, dragged him onto the ground for a penalty.

Now as Mbappe and France begin their Euros campaign against Germany in Munich on Tuesday, the world champions would be expecting much more from their talisman, who has evolved over the last three years.

The 22-year-old has showed he was more than just blinding speed and raw power. He is still a speed merchant, an ingenious trickster, and an incredibly driven individual, but his appetite for goals has intensified. He’s looking to score more goals than ever before, and understandably has had his most prolific season for PSG, scoring 42 goals in 47 games this season. His assist count, conversely, has come down, from an average of 15 in the previous three seasons to 11 in the last. His shots at goal have multiplied while passes have halved. This tendency has his France colleague Olivier Giroud ruffled, quipping that “sometimes you make a run and the balls just don’t arrive.” Rumours of dressing-room discord swirled around.

But Mbappe is not bothered. “I’m a forward and I’ve had that feeling 365 times in a game when you feel like you’re not being served,” he said. Carefully chosen words, like his carefully chosen passes these days. His passing has improved since teeing up with Neymar at PSG. His final ball is sharper and more precise because Neymar often likes the ball being fed at his feet.

At the start of their alliance, the Frenchman used to misread Neymar, but now, they are usually on the same wavelength. Some of his critics would chime in that he has picked the petulance of Neymar too, citing the flare-ups with former coach Thomas Tuchel and his detachment with several colleagues. Mbappe would dismiss such talk.

His link-play too has improved, and so automatically his range of passing. If at times, he used to over-hit the pass, it’s more well-weighted these days. He’s a more rounded player than ever before, except in his own eyes. “I still believe that I have a lot to learn before I can call myself a complete player,” the youngster had recently said.

As much as the gifts, it’s his motivation that could see Mbappe scale past ordinary greatness. There is an anecdote by Antoine Le Roy from Canal Plus, who made a documentary about Mbappe, about his motivation. In spare time, Le Roy and Mbappe used to play FIFA on Playstation. Bored of beating him repeatedly, Mbappe asked Roy what game he preferred. Roy said basketball, and he hammered Mbappe. Then he told Roy: “Antoine, give me a week. When I’m ready, I’ll let you know.”

A week later, he got Mbappe’s call and invitation. The footballer beat him soundly. “I had been playing for 10 years, but I didn’t know what to do. He’s like that in everything. He gives everything to be the best,” Roy told the PSG website. Mbappe apparently scoured through hundreds of videos and literature to master the game.

 

Mbappe would say, it’s not about motivation, but about dreaming. In a column in Players’ Tribune, he wrote: “In Bondy, in the 93, in the banlieues, maybe there is not a lot of money, it’s true. But we are dreamers. We’re born that way, I think. Maybe, it’s because dreaming doesn’t cost much. In fact, it’s free. Me and my friends, we did not hope to become footballers. We did not expect. We did not plan. We dreamed. There is a difference.”

It’s an indestructible alignment of qualities – dreams allied with devotion, speed wedded with technique. Despite the riches he has acquired, Mbappe’s feet are firmly on the ground. Last year, he launched a charity for underprivileged kids called “Inspired by KM”, which will sponsor 98 underprivileged children from Paris. He shelled out €60,000 to help find Nantes forward Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson after their plane tragically disappeared last January and donated all £275,000 of his match fees from France’s 2018 World Cup win to charity.

His Instagram account reveals a socially-sensitive and aware footballer. He has posted about the Australian bushfire crisis, saving the Amazon rainforests and voting in the European elections.

Those that are not entitled to his mercy seem to be defenders. He could unleash pure mayhem on them. An ageing German defence seems an open invitation for an Mbappe speed-fest; Portugal, their backline manned by Ruben Dias, would offer more resistance, but the same fear that the world saw in Rojo’s eyes that evening in Kazan could flash on several pairs of eyes in Euros when Mbappe has the ball at his feet. For he already has the world at his feet.

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