Kylian Mbappe is still too young to buy himself a beer in the U.S., but is a World Cup winner, twice French champion and has a couple of domestic cups in his trophy cabinet at home too. The France forward is the most-talked-about young player in the world and is already among the five best players of any age on the planet right now. And all of that just a month short of his 20th birthday.
It will feel like a long time ago for him but in two weeks, on Dec. 2, Mbappe will celebrate the third anniversary of his professional debut. It was for AS Monaco against Caen: He came on after 88 minutes to replace Fabio Coentrao at age 16 and 347 days to become the club’s youngest-ever first-team player, breaking the record set two decades earlier by Thierry Henry.
Since then, so much has happened. The last three years have been an incredible rise for the Parisian, yet the most crucial time for Mbappe is more the three years to come than the three just passed. Of course, emerging on the scene the way he did was spectacular. But his ability to keep improving, reach new heights and establish himself among the greats is an even bigger challenge.
Mbappe will get better — of that there is no doubt. There is still room for improvement in his game, such as in his finishing or in the air. His work ethic could be better, as could his decision making, and as he gets more experience he will learn how to deal with pressure and expectations better.
In the next three years, you can also expect him to move to the No. 9 position permanently. He is playing a lot on the wing at the moment, for France and Paris Saint-Germain, but his future lies as a centre-forward. That is his best position and where he can use his amazing qualities in the best way possible.
He will win more, score more and become even more famous; more adored by fans of his teams and more hated by fans of others. He will have to deal with his increasingly popular status. At the moment, he copes well.
“[Being famous] is a different life — a life that I always dreamed of having,” he told ESPN Brazil last week. “So I am happy. Now, I live naturally, like you and like everybody else. I go home and I have family, friends. I try to live as normally as possible, even if it is difficult sometimes as a celebrity.”
At times this season, and a bit of last season, he showed some arrogance and complacency. But in years to come, he will have to be more disciplined. He will have to be the best role model he can be. No more turning up late to team meetings like last month before Le Classique; no more nonchalant attitude at training like before the Napoli clash four weeks ago; no more condescending behaviour either. His family can keep him grounded, as he highlighted in his ESPN interview.
“It is a question of education, the education that your family has given you, to enable you to confront the different stages in life,” he added. “After all, before being a footballer, I am a man, so remaining respectful and humble helps to keep things simple. Just because I am a world champion and I score lots of goals on the pitch, it does not permit me to be above everybody else or to have certain privileges. You need to behave naturally and be kind to other people.”
In this day and age, a lot can change in the club game in three years. Right now, Mbappe is at the heart of pretty much everything PSG do and what they are. For the club, having the next big thing in world football be a kid born-and-bred in Paris, is a huge asset and they will want to keep him forever. Will he still be at the Parc des Princes in three years’ time? Probably … but not for much longer after that. The French champions dream that Mbappe can take them to a Champions League triumph, but that may take some time.
“We have everything at the club,” he told ESPN. “We are good, we are well-treated. We have structure, we have quality, and now it is up to us to show that we are great players and especially a great team. I think that PSG is a club that has grown since the arrival of the new owners.
“It has not stopped growing and we need to grow with the club before immediately thinking about the Champions League final and winning the competition. There are steps before getting there and at the club, we are perfectly conscientious of the fact that we, the players, need to keep growing with the club — both things and everybody together. We will see where we go, but yes, I think that we, at one moment, want to win the Champions League.”
The Champions League, the Ballon d’Or, the 2020 European Championships, more league titles and domestic cups: there are so many challenges ahead for Mbappe and, crazily, all are possible for him in the next three years. The first three-year cycle of his career has exceeded expectations; the next one already has fans salivating at the prospect of what he can achieve.
At the moment, in his eyes, the perfect footballer looks like this: “[Lionel] Messi’s left foot, Neymar’s right foot, Cristiano Ronaldo’s mentality and [Gianluigi] Buffon’s class,” he told ESPN. If the next three years turn out as successful as the previous three, then we will have to add Mbappe’s pace to that glorious list.