For a player with such enormous potential, who had the world at his feet as a teenager, Kylian Mbappe’s growth has been quite a process over the past few months.
There was an uninspiring Euro 2020, where France’s protagonist took the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after his missed penalty in the shocking last-16 defeat to Switzerland.
When Lionel Messi arrived in Paris, he became embroiled in constant speculation about his future seeping into his form, including a falling out with friend Neymar.
Kylian Mbappé endured a rough few months after missing the French penalty at Euro 2020
The 22-year-old also lost his rag to PSG teammate Neymar during a match in Ligue 1 last month.
But a great performance in the second half of his country against Belgium could turn the tide
But now, after revealing earlier this week that he was considering a break from international service, 90 minutes may have changed everything.
With his country two goals behind in a desperate situation in the Nations League semi-final against Belgium on Thursday night, Mbappe led the fight back and took center stage in an exciting second half performance by Les Bleus.
A luscious move and he got a gaping opportunity for Antoine Griezmann. Then, this time, his quick feet led to a goal as he set up Karim Benzema.
Mbappé led the blowback in the Nations League semi-final against Belgium on Thursday evening
And when Didier Deschamps’ team was awarded a penalty, via VAR intervention, the 22-year-old did not shirk responsibility.
We’re not leaving it to Pogba, Benzema or Griezmann, who all would have wanted their chances. There is only one chieftain for France, and his name is Kylian.
MBAPPE’S REGISTRATION 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 unshakable confidence, he stepped towards the ball and stroked it into the top corner out of reach of Thibaut Courtois. And his involvement was not done there.
In a dramatic final, he kicked off the move that led to Theo Hernandez’s stoppage time winner, with another shoulder drop that created an opening on the right side. All in all, just when his country needed him at a big moment, Mbappé was on the board.
It makes the past six months or so even more baffling and against the grain. No doubt it all started when another Champions League opportunity came and went for PSG against Manchester City. An impotent Mbappé missed the second leg of the semi-final due to a hamstring injury.
The powerhouses of French football even missed out on Lille’s Ligue 1 title. A futile conclusion to his club season was taken into his first tournament since setting the world on fire at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
And in the pan-European tournament, in France’s Group of Death, Mbappé was unable to perform to his lofty standards.
Four appearances netted zero goals, evidenced by the returning Benzema. But, in stark contrast to the halo over his head three years earlier, this time he was the pantomime villain, missing the vital penalty in the last-16 shoot-out.
No rave reviews. No parties. This time Mbappe mediawatch didn’t make for nice reading.
Switzerland celebrates after knocking out world champions in shock of last 16 years at Euro 2020
This time, Mbappé was the player who was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and was criticized
It was a first in what is, it should not be forgotten, a fledgling career. Critics came from all sides: had speculation about his club future influenced his summer?
Despite the glamorous arrival of Messi in August and the formation of a ravishing attacking trio, ties to Real Madrid did not go away. Why, many asked, did Mbappe not just sign a new contract with the most exciting club in the world?
Now we know. His heart was elsewhere. ‘Why should I stay at PSG? We are far from it… as 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 been only for Real Madrid. I kept 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 have only 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 European Championship, he had considered giving up the national shirt for a period of time because of the criticism he received.
“The most important thing is the French national team and if the French national team is happier without me, so be it.
“I got the message that my ego was making us lose, that I wanted to take up too much space, so we might have won without me.”
Just imagine that! France’s biggest star since European football’s hottest property Thierry Henry has taken a break from playing for his country. It is hardly available.
It was also a difficult start on the field. PSG have not fired all cylinders and after a 2-0 win over Montpellier in September, he started ranting about Neymar on the bench.
Mbappe launched a diatribe against Neymar last month in which he called the Brazilian a ‘vagabond’
The attacker confirmed he shouted out to Neymar and called his team-mate a ‘vagabond’ (‘clochard’ in French) after his substitution after the Brazilian ace was not passed to him.
His candor has been hard to avoid in recent weeks. However, there are indications that the tide is turning.
An adorable assist for Messi’s first PSG goal against Manchester City last week. And now a man-of-the-match display in a tournament semifinal.
While his club’s future remains in the air – many indeed expect the Frenchman to move to Real next year, perhaps even for free – his talk on the pitch has proved far more rewarding than the headlines that come out of it.
Still, a win against Manchester City and an assist for Lionel Messi was a promising sign
Mbappé celebrates with French match winner Theo Hernandez – they play against Spain on Sunday
Deschamps, in the wake of Thursday’s comeback, praised Mbappe for putting his European Championship troubles behind him.
“Kylian didn’t hesitate. He became determined after a lack of efficiency at the European Championship. As I’ve always said, the French team is better with than without Kylian Mbappe.
“We were eliminated by Switzerland (at Euro 2020), but the French national team is still there. We are still among the best teams.’
It’s easy to forget how remarkable Mbappe’s ascent has been since his debut for Monaco. At just 22 years old, he already has 50 caps for his country.
Cap No 51 is in Spain’s Nations League final on Sunday. Luis Enrique’s side better watch out. Because Mbappe, who is once again thriving for his country and hungry for further international accolades, has turned the tide.
Mbappé was named man of the match after his performance against Belgium in the semi-finals