Edinson Cavani approached him like an older brother and advised him to harness his physical might to mass produce uncheck marks. Neymar Júnior treated him with condescension, made fun of his hyperactivity, and pointed out that he confused playing fast with playing well. Kylian Mbappé encountered two antagonists when he arrived in the Paris Saint-Germain dressing room in 2017. Two leaders who offered him two contradictory possibilities: industry or art. After four years, a person close to the player indicates that the unthinkable happened. Mbappé was seduced by Neymar. The one who least valued him. The one who resembled him the least.
On Tuesday night Mbappé will jump to the Camp Nou to play the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. Without Neymar or Di María, both injured, he will do so dressed in the main figure uniform. "I expect the maximum of the great players," said Mauricio Pochettino, the PSG coach; And in this case, Kylian. Each one must fulfill their role, and the absences of Neymar and Di María are important. ”
The pressure is redoubled. At 22, the forward is about to finish his training mired in a vocational conflict that has his circle of advisers very concerned, with his father, Wilfried, at the head. Between all of them, they have been trying for months to convince him that he has a historic opportunity before him: to exploit his enormous conditions as a scorer and become Pelé's successor, or to let himself be carried away by the pleasant temptation to emulate Neymar in his most frivolous version of —paraphrasing Juanma Lillo— "player of plays" .
PSG announces the signing of Pochettino as new
coach The debate extends to all corners of PSG. How to persuade a boy who at the age of 19 won a World Cup and gravely proclaimed that he had reached the goal of "a lifetime"? How to convince him to change when he is the first player at his age to exceed the barrier of 20 million euros in annual net income? In 2019, Thomas Tuchel, then the coach, warned President Nasser Al-Khelaifi that to relaunch Mbappé's career the best thing he could do was sell Neymar. After directing his first game (1-1 at Saint-Étienne on January 6) Pochettino also observed the obvious: “Mbappé has to improve like everyone else.”
In terms of football, the exponential growth announced by the scorer who won the Ligue 1 with Monaco in 2017 , it did not quite happen despite his muscular development. In the Champions League, the final test, he has six knockout games without scoring. In the calendar year 2020, he played 11 games, including the final against Bayern, and did not score a goal until the last date of the group stage, when Istanbul Basaksehir, who was already eliminated, was measured and scored a penalty for the 3-0. Up to 17 players scored more goals than he did in UEFA competitions in the 2019-20 season.
On the advice of his representatives, Mbappé has been trying for months to bury his poetic instinct. They say that in the face to face he is receptive to the idea of reaffirming his identity as a performance player. He has embarked on his particular industrial reconversion: concentrating on the opposing goal, trying to be forceful, accompanying the plays more. But, as they warn in the club, he does not look comfortable. When in doubt, the tension arises and ends up going down to midfield to fly and ask for the ball at the foot. There it exhibits its shortcomings. He never had the wood of an organizer or a Virguero. Very few footballers achieved a lot of performance with little effort. Not even the great virtuosos like Neymar.
Two types of superstar
“There are two types of soccer superstar”, says an agent who works with PSG; “Those who rank through the generation of the game, like Maradona, Messi or Iniesta; and those who rank through the goal as Pelé, Cristiano, Van Basten or Ronaldo Nazario. Kylian's problem is that he gave up his hammer nature for a long time; he wasn't thrilled with the idea of making history by busting bookmarks. He wanted to score only magic goals. There are times when you may overflow power, but prefers to put on the brakes, make the statue, making an arabesque and haggle continuous, or go down to midfield without knowing how to measure the times of the game with the timeliness of Neymar ".
Neymar, low against Barça in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16
Ronald Koeman was asked if he planned to protect himself from Mbappé in some special way. "I am not in favor of putting individual markings," he replied. "When we have the ball we have to be careful to be well positioned in case we lose it."
On Saturday against Nice, a team that advances its rear to the opposite field if necessary, PSG had large spaces to run. Up to nine times Mbappé commanded the counterattack. He ran into the beardless Andy Pelmard, a 20-year-old winger who only overflowed twice: once to cross out and another, in the 87th minute, to cause a free kick hit the side. Too pending to receive the foot, less inclined to move between the lines than towards the ball, if PSG was deployed in front of a well-balanced defense, he did not help to give fluidity to the actions. Badly accompanied by some midfielders who supplied him at the wrong time, he finished three times, all three outside the area and deflected from the three sticks. Grumpy, he committed some infraction. They showed him a yellow card. Draxler and Kean scored the goals for PSG (2-1)
Called to become the best player on the planet, today Kylian Mbappé is going through a football identity crisis. Barça offers two extreme paths: glory or insignificance.