1998 was a triumphant year for French football. In July, Amie Jacquet’s team united a fractious nation in winning their home World Cup with typical panache, sparking wild celebrations on the Champs Elysees. Five months later, Paris witnessed another momentous event, although unheralded at the time - Kylian Mbappe Lottin was born. Last summer Gallic divisions were again briefly eased as Les Bleus became World Champions for the second time, instigating similar scenes of joy. This time, however, Kylian Mbappe was at their centre, still just 19. Trophy in hand.
Mbappe proved decisive at Russia 2018, crucially so to win an entropic second round tie with Argentina. Mbappe's chest-out blurred gallop to draw an early penalty remains perhaps the tournament's enduring image while an emphatic finish in the Moscow rain to secure French victory two weeks later drew parallels with Brazil's 1958 Pele inspired triumph. Although likening Mbappe's achievements to Pele's may seem hyperbolic, it’s likely that as the 2018 World Cup recedes into memory marvel at Mbappe’s tournament will only grow with greater context and eventually stand alongside other historic performances of the world game.
While many emerging talents suffer through the ‘new-(insert past national great here)’ prefix, such declarations have been less of an issue for Mbappe. Although comparisons with Thierry Henry's pace, deft touch and flare as well as a young Ronaldo Nazario’s unerring finishing and alarming change of direction are clear, Mbappe's talent is such, his ceiling so high, that he has the potential to set himself apart. Maybe he already has.
Such an explosion of young footballing talent may be the most enthralling aspect of being a football fan and in the pages ahead Football Radar's analysts will aim to point you in the direction of those players who may be capable, even in some small way, of generating the excitement and passion Mbappe helped ignite in the millions partying in Paris last July.
This fourth publication from Football Radar's analysts, following last year's journal which centred on the next generation of young managers and magazines previewing EURO 2016 and AFCON 2017, not only focuses on the latest wave of young talent but also takes a wider look at the footballing landscape. Alongside profiles of Benfica’s latest gifted midfielder, Crystal Palace’s down to earth young full back and Kashima Antlers’ new flying winger you will find an overview of Norwegian club Stabaek’s golden generation, discussions on the struggle for power at OGC Nice, an analytical profile of Copenhagen free kick master Robert Skov and the J.League Team of the Season. A huge thank you to the dozens of analysts at Football Radar who contributed their time and expert footballing knowledge to this journal.
It seems almost farcical that Kylian Mbappe only turned 20 in December but his senior career at the turn of the year already amounted to 150 games, 73 goals and 40 assists having won every French domestic honour and the World Cup. After adding the Trophée Kopa in December, the Ballon d’Or’s young player award, placing fourth for the main prize, Mbappe explained that it just made him "hungrier to go on and achieve more. My next aim is to lift absolutely every trophy.” While further trophies, notably the Champions League and the Ballon d’Or itself, are yet to be captured, Mbappe’s footballing destiny is perhaps a little less tangible than medals and cups.
Assuming he can avoid the disastrous injuries of Ronaldo Nazario for example, what will ultimately shape the Frenchman’s legacy will be adding to a growing list of memorable, even iconic, moments. His barrelling run against Argentina may soon sit alongside images of Diego Maradona surrounded by Belgians at Mexico 86, Pele’s volley in the 58 final and Johan Cruyff’s 1974 turn against Sweden. While there remains many barriers to the success Mbappe is capable of, such as injury, attitude and form, what he could win is perhaps immaterial, even inevitable. Instead it’s what he could do that may come to define him.
Perhaps this partially true for every young talent, the prospect of their potential often proving more captivating than what's won as a result of it. Mbappe, however, may be one of the few who could surpass the hype. Either way, thanks to a man not even alive to see Didier Deschamps lift the World Cup at the Stade de France in 1998, it’s likely that the Champs Elysee won’t be quiet for long.
Adam White, Editor and Designer.