For a player of such humungous potential, who had the world at his feet as a mere teenager, it’s been quite the growing-up process these past few months for Kylian Mbappe.
There was an uninspiring Euro 2020, where France’s protagonist was under the spotlight for the wrong reasons after his missed penalty in the shock last-16 defeat to Switzerland.
Then, amid Lionel Messi’s arrival in Paris, he has become embroiled in constant speculation over his future which seeped into his form on the pitch, including a row with friend Neymar.
Kylian Mbappe has endured a few tough months after missing France’s penalty at Euro 2020
The 22-year-old also lost his rag at PSG team-mate Neymar during a Ligue 1 fixture last month
But a terrific second-half performance for his country against Belgium could turn the tide
But now, after revealing earlier this week that he considered a break from international duty, 90 minutes may well have changed everything.
With his country two goals down in a desperate situation in their Nations League semi-final against Belgium on Thursday night, Mbappe led the fightback and was at the heart of a stirring second-half performance by Les Bleus.
One sumptuous step-over and he laid on a gaping chance for Antoine Griezmann. Then his quick feet, this time, led to a goal as he set up Karim Benzema.
Mbappe led the fightback in the Nations League semi-final against Belgium on Thursday night
And when Didier Deschamps’ side were gifted a penalty, via a VAR intervention, the 22-year-old did not shirk the responsibility.
No leaving it to Pogba, Benzema or Griezmann, all of whom would have fancied their chances. There’s only one main man for France, and he’s called Kylian.
MBAPPE’S RECORD FOR FRANCE
2017: 10 caps, 1 goal
2018: 18 caps, 9 goals
2019: 6 caps, 3 goals
2020: 5 caps, 3 goals
2021: 11 caps 2 goals
Total: 50 caps, 18 goals
With unwavering confidence, he strutted up to the ball and caressed it into the top corner beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois. And his involvement wasn’t done there.
In a dramatic finale, he started the move which led to Theo Hernandez’s stoppage-time winner, with another drop of the shoulder creating an opening down the right-hand side. All in all, just when his country needed him in a big moment, Mbappe stood up to the plate.
It makes the past six months or so even more baffling and against the grain. Arguably, it all started as another Champions League opportunity came and went for PSG against Manchester City. A powerless Mbappe missed the second-leg of the semi-final due to a hamstring injury.
The powerhouses of French football even missed out on the Ligue 1 title to Lille. A futile conclusion to his club season was taken into his first tournament since setting the world alight at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
And in the pan-European tournament, in France’s Group of Death, Mbappe by his lofty standards could not deliver.
Four appearances yielded zero goals, shown up by the returning Benzema. But, in stark contrast to the halo over his head three years earlier, he was the pantomime villain this time, missing the vital penalty in the last-16 shoot-out.
No rave reviews. No celebrations. This time, Mbappe mediawatch did not make for pretty reading.
Switzerland celebrate after knocking-out the world champions in a last-16 shock at Euro 2020
Mbappe was this time the player under the spotlight for the wrong reasons and faced criticism
It marked a first in what is, it shouldn’t be forgotten, a fledgling career. Critics came in from all angles: had speculation over his club future affected his summer?
Still, despite Messi’s glamour arrival in August and the formation of a mouthwatering attacking trio, links to Real Madrid did not go away. Why, many asked, did Mbappe not just sign a new deal at the most exciting club on the planet?
Now we know. His heart was elsewhere. ‘What could make me stay at PSG? We’re far from it… since I wanted to leave Paris this summer. I’m not going to be the hypocrite, my ambition was clear,’ he revealed in his bombshell interview with L’Equipe this week.
‘I am attached to PSG, and if I had left this summer, it would have only been for Real Madrid. I continued playing in August and I had no problem with that. Why did I want to leave?
‘I thought my adventure was over. If I had left, it would only have been to Real Madrid. Leaving PSG was the next logical step.’
Mbappe gave an explosive interview in which he admitted he wanted to leave Paris for Madrid
The revelations didn’t end there either. Clearly still hurt by the failure at the Euros, he had considered stepping away from the national shirt for a period, due to the criticism he received.
‘The most important thing is the French national team and if the French national team is happier without me, it is like that.
‘I received the message, that my ego was what made us lose, that I wanted to take up too much space, and that without me, therefore, we might have won.’
Just, for a moment, imagine that! France’s biggest star since Thierry Henry, the hottest property in European football, taking a break from playing for his country. It’s scarcely available.
It was a tricky beginning on the field too. PSG have not been firing on all cylinders, and after a 2-0 victory against Montpellier in September, he launched into a rant on the bench about Neymar.
Mbappe launched a rant at Neymar last month in which he called the Brazilian a ‘tramp’
The forward confirmed that he shouted out to Neymar and called his team-mate a ‘tramp’ (‘clochard’ in French) following his substitution after the Brazilian ace did not pass to him.
His outspokenness has been difficult to avoid in recent weeks. Yet there are indications the tide is turning.
A cute assist for Messi’s first PSG goal against Man City last week. And now a man-of-the-match display in a tournament semi-final.
While his club future remains up in the air – indeed many expect the Frenchman to move to Real, maybe even for free, next year – his talking on the pitch has proven to be far more rewarding than headlines formed off it.
Yet a win against Manchester City, and an assist for Lionel Messi, was a promising sign
Mbappe celebrates with France’s match-winner Theo Hernandez – they face Spain on Sunday
Deschamps, in the aftermath of Thursday’s comeback, hailed Mbappe for putting his European Championship woes behind him.
‘Kylian didn’t have any doubts. He was determined after lacking efficiency at the Euros. Like I always said, the French team is better with than without Kylian Mbappe.
‘We were knocked out by Switzerland (at Euro 2020) but the France national team is still here. We’re still among the best teams.’
It’s easy to forget how remarkable Mbappe’s ascent has been, ever since his debut for Monaco. At just 22, he already has 50 caps for his country.
Cap No 51 will be Spain in the Nations League final on Sunday. Luis Enrique’s side had better watch out. Because Mbappe, back thriving for his country and hungry for further international honours, has turned the tide.
Mbappe was named man of the match following his display against Belgium in the semi-finals