Kylian Mbappe’s reputation as the ‘new Thierry Henry’ is assured, at least for the time being.
As soon as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted that he was keeping tabs on the 18-year-old, and that he felt that the young attacker did indeed possess qualities reminiscent of the Gunners legend, there was no chance of him shaking the tag. But it is not one that the player wants.
“I think every player’s got his own story,” he told Telefoot last year. “Titi has written his, I hope to write mine. I can only hope that it will be as good, or even better than his.”
In the short term, however, it is a burden he is destined to bear.
He may not even be a regular at Monaco, but he has already been spoken of in the highest terms by Wenger, while no less than Zinedine Zidane, an “idol” of the youngster, gave him a personal tour of the Bernabeu as he sought to lure one of world football’s hottest prospects to Real Madrid.
“Of course we follow him,” Wenger told BeIn Sports. “We know him very well, and he is developing well. He could be another Thierry Henry.”
It is easy to see why such clubs are interested in a player so young. France is a prolific supplier of top talent to Europe’s elite clubs, but Mbappe might just be the most exciting player in a generation.
His natural attributes are instantly recognisable, and that is little wonder given that his mother was a handball player at AS Bondy, where the young Kylian honed his skills for a decade, starting out at just four.
Even if handball was his mother’s sport, he comes from a football-mad family. “A day didn’t pass when we didn’t speak about football at home,” he told Le Parisien last month. “When I got up, I followed all the football news on television. So it’s natural.”
To this day, he relaxes by watching other matches – “I live, eat and sleep football,” he said. “It’s more than just a passion.”
And he has made his passion an art.
For a player of his age, he is already strong, while his speed is electric, as veteran Montpellier centre-back Hilton found to his cost when the teenager outstripped him to an embarrassing degree in Tuesday’s meeting between the clubs.
Having worked to get himself behind the defence and clear on goal, however, the young forward showed maturity that would be surprising had he not already displayed it countless times in his burgeoning career. Faced with keeper Geoffrey Jourdren, he had the cool head to simply roll the ball through his opponents’ legs and into the net.
There was certainly something very Henry-esque in his movement down the left wing and his composure to finish the chance, but even France’s all-time record scorer was not as accomplished or natural in his finishing at such a young age as his successor.
Mbappe has pinched Henry’s record as Monaco’s youngest ever scorer – netting at 17 years and two months against Troyes last term – and has scored at a consistently impressive rate given his relatively limited opportunities behind Valere Germain and Radamel Falcao. He has four league goals to his credit this season in little over 600 minutes of action – plus six assists.
His record in all competitions is no less impressive, with eight goals and eight decisive passes in total from only 932 minutes of football – that means he’s been implicated in a goal under once an hour. And he only turned 18 in December.
Not even the great Henry, whose career was littered with scoring exploits, started at such a lick. He left Monaco having played 100 matches and scored 22 goals: if Mbappe continues at his current rate, he will surpass that.
On the international scene, too, the teenager has shone. France’s triumph in the European Under-19 Championships in the summer may have been scant consolation for their final defeat at Euro 2016, but Mbappe’s stunning demolition of Portugal in the semi-final offered some relief and set the young Blues up to defeat Italy 4-0 in the final.
The comparisons are plentiful but understandable. Mbappe favours playing wide on the left and cutting inside to do his damage, possesses the same frightening pace and commands a technical level above his peers. Crucially, he also appears to have targeted steady rather than spectacular progress in his career, even if father Wilfried did insist he would have to consider his son’s options if he was not playing regularly by Christmas.
Kylian’s reasons for turning down Real Madrid as a 14-year-old were, indeed, measured. “I didn’t really want to leave France so soon,” he told Telefoot. “I stayed in Monaco, and I think I made the right choice.”
Since then, Manchester United launched a €40 million approach last summer, which was rejected by Monaco, although the player says he would not have left in any case.
“Even if anything can happen in football, I’m very attached to Monaco. The club has helped me grow and given me the possibility to become a professional. I hope to repay all that confidence by being decisive and winning titles,” he explained.
So it seems that in the immediate future, Mbappe is off limits, but in 18 months it may be time for a new challenge. When that comes, expect a mad rush for his signature as he is a young man destined for the very top.