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who takes it all in his rapid stride
The life of the little football geniuses sometimes has all kinds of discord and anger. Kylian Mbappé has been through this and is bound to be held responsible for the conflicts in his early career. But this kid, deeply devoted to the game, seemed stronger than anything, on the field and off it, as he prepared from a young age to navigate the pitiless environment of football.
“His father Wilfried
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has videos of him as a child, in which he tells his story,” says family friend Alain Mboma. “He is four years old – four years old! – and he described the journey he wanted to take.”
I was a dreamer when I was younger,” Mbappé confided to us a few weeks ago. “My parents did care a bit about ‘my mouth’. But now they are the ones in the wrong position.”
He had to fight to get there, guided by his own impatience, which in this case may have had some virtues. In 2015-2016, his third season in
Monaco, Mbappé entered his last year as a youth team player and did not understand why Leonardo Jardim did not include him in the professional group. He had the ability, he knew it. But Jardim did not know, until the international week of November 2015.
“I remember very well the first training session Kylian had with Jardim,” says Luis Campos, Monaco’s former technical director who used to work as José Mourinho’s scout. “At the end of the session, Leonardo calls me and says: ‘This kid, he must not go down to the youth team anymore, he will work with us and when he gets his chance, I think he’ll get there.’ Leonardo was a little late, that’s the truth.”
The period is crucial, for the player and for the club, who feared losing its prized asset for free at the end of that season. Behind the scenes, moves were going on. Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Arsenal had already made multiple approaches. Arsène Wenger met him in person to try to convince him to join the London club. Mbappé falters, he is especially on the brink of answering PSG’s call. But, in Paris to sign the contract, he is finally convinced that Laurent Blanc, the PSG coach at the time, will not give him a chance. “We were not very far away. There were two clubs in the final – AS Monaco and PSG,” said Olivier Létang,
then deputy sports director of the latter. “What was missing was the feeling he would get playing time. Because Kylian wanted to play and it
was his feeling that he would have more opportunity to play at Monaco than PSG.”
It was finally Campos, tasked by the Monaco’s owners to resolve the situation, who tipped the decision in their favour.
“I remember perfectly when Vadim [Vasilyev, vice president of AS Monaco] gave me the green light,” he recalls. “It was like a light from God, because just after, I left the changing room and I saw Kylian’s mom. I went up in the stands and spent 40 minutes with her. I explained to her, with my experience of big clubs, the advantages of Kylian staying in Monaco. I told her the most important thing is that the day Kylian gets into the changing room of a big club, he hears the other players say: ‘Hello Kylian, welcome, we love you a lot.’ If he had left Monaco at that time, he would have arrived in a large changing room, with great ego, like a stranger. They would have looked at him and said: ‘Who is this kid?’”
On March 6 2016, it’s official: Mbappé signed his first professional contract and committed to Monaco until 2019, with a signing-on bonus of about €3m and an evolutionary monthly salary: €85,000 the first year, €100,000 the second and €120,000 the third. Considerable sums for a
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player of his age.
Not everyone is so impressed, however. The coach of France’s under-17 team, Jean-Claude Giuntini, who did not respond to our requests for an interview, considered Mbappé to be an inconsistent talent. In 2015, he did not even summon the striker to compete in the European Championship in Bulgaria that was won by the Les Bleuets. He preferred Odsonne Édouard (now at Celtic), who was crowned
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top scorer of the competition. The following season, in the under‑18s, Giuntini still did not select the Monaco player. He did not believe in him and criticised Mbappé for a lack of defensive involvement and his attitude. Suddenly, Ludovic Batelli, the under‑19 coach, decided to gazump him.
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