This article also featured on Guardian Sport and GFFN.
“You have to a protect us!” implored an increasing irked Kylian Mbappé to the referee as he picked himself up from another forceful challenge. Promoted Nimes had, as manager Bernard Blaquart stated, made a point of ruffling as many Parisian feathers as possible in pressing the Ligue 1 champions aggressively in midfield. Mbappé, however, saw their tactics differently. Less than twenty minutes in Mbappé’s protesting had seen him booked and encouraged Neymar to lead the 19-year-old away from Monsieur Brisard for fear of further punishment. Mbappé’s ire did little more than simmer however and in injury time, his thunderous finish having won the game, an aggressive reaction to Nimes midfielder Taji Savanier’s trip saw him dismissed for the first time in his Ligue 1 career.
Mbappé’s sending off ended what was a rumbustious Saturday afternoon in Southern France. Amid a boisterous first half, Les Crocodiles’ support providing a fevered atmosphere, Neymar had given PSG the lead, celebrating with pretend tears in front of a sign reading “Neymar is a cry baby”, before Angel Di Maria’s audacious effort direct from a corner seemingly put PSG beyond reach. However, Nimes continued to press and Thiago Silva’s clumsy challenge gave Savanier the equaliser from the spot following Antonin Bobichon’s curling 20-yard shot on the hour had kept Nimes alive.
As confidence swelled at Stade des Costières, last season’s Ligue 2 runners up seemed favourites for a fifth goal. Mbappé however emphatically ended any burgeoning belief. Presnel Kimpembe’s long ball over full-back Gaëtan Paquiez’s shoulder for an already motoring Mbappé resulted in the PSG forward crashing home what proved to be the winner. Edinson Cavani made the game safe before Mbappé’s red card, Savanier following Mbappé off, somewhat harshly, for his trip.
L’Équipe’s front cover on Sunday morning depicted the two sides of Mbappé’s game. His typically exacting winner had followed a superb volley against Angers and two goals off the bench to beat Guingamp, but there are increasing concerns over a more petulant side. The disarming grin shown during his breakthrough year at Monaco as Leonardo Jardim’s men gloriously ambushed PSG to win the French title has been seen less frequently since Mbappé arrived in Paris last summer. Similar treatment, in the youngster’s opinion, during a Coupe de la Ligue tie with Rennes last season, also led to a red card, as Mbappé scrapped his studs down Ismaila Sarr’s calf.
Meanwhile flashes of frustration with referees and opposition players have also become increasingly common, feeding into a sense that antagonising Mbappé is a worthwhile ploy. A scenario in stark contrast to how Mbappé, applauded for his World Cup displays by the Nimes support before the game, was perceived when he first emerged; as a mature, even-tempered and down-to-earth young professional. While it would too soon to revise those ideas, he has not reacted well to negative attention since.
There continues to be an underlying sense that the move to PSG may have played a part in his slight shift in attitude. Since the QSI take over in 2011, exacerbated by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s unique brand of cockiness, Parisian entitlement has become a central theme at the Parc des Princes. Adrien Rabiot’s refusal to be listed as one of Didier Deschamps reserves for the World Cup and Dani Alves claiming he ‘couldn’t tell you a name of a single Marseille player’ before last season’s opening Classique are similar instances of a haughty confidence becoming something worse.
Mbappé’s relationship with Neymar, which will remain a fascinating subplot to this Ligue 1 campaign with the Brazilian very aware that he could be quickly surpassed in importance to the Paris project, also colours Mbappé’s actions. The two seemingly good friends, Neymar’s partying, playboy image may prove a negative influence on Mbappé, not 20 until December, in much the same way Pep Guardiola feared Ronaldinho’s similar persona might have adversely affected Lionel Messi as he emerged at Barcelona – supposedly a key reason for Ronaldinho being cut loose.
Neymar, however, seven years the Frenchman’s senior, could yet prove a positive for Mbappé’s development. Having led Mbappé away from berating the referee and comically sending up those ‘cry baby’ jibes, the Brazilian was approached by a young fan who ran out from the front row as he left the pitch at full=time. Neymar put his arm around and chatted to the boy, giving him his shirt, before carrying the child back (somewhat overwhelmed) to the stands while being roundly cheered by those Nimes fans watching on for his good grace.
Nearly a year on from Neymar’s own puerile dismissal in Le Classique, in very similar circumstances after Lucas Ocampos’ trip, it seems that some lessons have been learnt on his part. Kylian Mbappé, although still very early in his career, has yet to prove that he is close to doing the same. Mbappé did later apologise and admitted afterwards “this is football you have to learn when you play this type of team and to be above it because it is like this every weekend, so if I get annoyed every weekend I will receive a lot of red cards.” Worryingly for Thomas Tuchel however, Mbappé then told reporters: “It was that last tackle. I am not going to linger on it but I think that it had no place on a football pitch… PSG is above that, we are above that… If I had to do it again, I would.”
by Adam White