2018 22under22 Countdown – #1: Kylian Mbappé


“My word, Mbappé is good. Oh la la, I really like watching him play. When you have a kid with that much talent, what are you going to teach him apart from a few tactical things?” – Thierry Henry

Date of Birth: December 20th, 1998 (19 years old)
Nationality: French
Position: Striker/Winger
Club Appearances: 116 (52 goals, 21 assists)
International Appearances: 14 (3 goals)
EiF Ability Rating: 78

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.

Last April, the EIF team was voting to make our 2017 edition of the 22under22 series and what ensued was a heated debate. Who should be #1? Ousmane Dembélé or Kylian Mbappé?

Dembélé had been superb since his transfer to Dortmund and immediately became one of Dortmund’s key players. From September to February it seemed he would be a shoo-in to top our list, but then another French player popped up in December who would make our decision much more difficult. Kylian Mbappé’s name had been mentioned as one of the brightest talents in Europe ever since his terrific play at the U19 European Championships, but I don’t think anyone expected him to take off like he did.

After coming into the line up in December, Kylian Mbappé was downright unplayable. Averaging a goal or assist nearly every 90 minutes, Mbappé became the talk of the town… and rightly so. Wowing spectators with his pace, directness, confidence, and skill, Mbappé dominated defenders in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League. Scoring goals against Manchester City, Dortmund, and Juventus, Mbappé had one of the most impressive seasons an 18 year old has ever had.

However, Mbappé had to deal with a #2 spot on our list, despite my best efforts to lobby that he should clearly be #1.

Fast-forward ~13 months and the committee is now in full agreement — Kylian Mbappé is the best youngster in the world.

The only player to feature in every preliminary list (15 voters in total = 15 lists) and the only player to be given a 10/10 potential in the final voting. Essentially, Kylian is special and everyone knows it.

After his incredible debut season, Mbappé made a 180 million euro move to PSG to join forces with Neymar and Edinson Cavani. Everyone was stunned when this fee was reported, but it was a steal. In a market where players with much less talent and much less upside go for astronomical fees, signing an 18 year old Mbappé for 180 million is nothing.

And after one season with the French giants, Mbappé has already started to prove that that fee will indeed be a bargain. 21 goals + 12 assists in 44 appearances despite mainly playing out of position on the right wing and a domestic treble has meant that it’s been quite a successful 1st season. Obviously PSG and Mbappé will be disappointed to have lost in the CL to Real Madrid, but they put up a good fight against Europe’s best team and showed they do have what it takes to win the CL.

Everyone has watched Mbappé and knows about his incredible athleticism, powerful dribbling, and lightning quick pace, so instead of focusing on these traits I’m going to pick out a few less obvious things that illustrate to me that Mbappé is no ordinary talent.

First, it’s his intelligence. He’s able to pick up tactical nuances and new roles quite quickly and easily. He’s already proven to be adept as a lone striker, a winger, and as a second striker in his early career. His understanding of where, how, and when to move is crucial to this. He has some of the best movement I’ve ever seen in a young player. Times his runs in behind, knows when to check back for the ball, knows how to float in between the half spaces. It’s such an important trait to have and most don’t develop this understanding until much later in their careers, but Mbappé has it already.

Second, it’s his professionalism. Especially in this day and age where social media is so prevalent in everyone’s lives and football players make an exorbitant amount of money, it is so easy to get carried away and lose sight of the goal at hand. But, Mbappé doesn’t even seem remotely phased by this. He remains grounded, works hard, and rarely complains. This shows on the pitch as he rarely plays a bad game. The best players in the world are the best because they are consistent and that’s what Mbappé has been in his short career. He obviously still has his ups and downs (who doesn’t) but you generally know exactly what you’re going to get and that’s a testament to his preparation and professionalism.

Just have a look at his expected goals and assists numbers per 90 this season. Consistency that matches some of the best players in the world. (Just look at Mbappe in the top right corner).

“Everything has changed around him, but Kylian has remained the same. He’s very confident, but very simple too.” – Ruddy Ebondo, former Monaco defender

Third, it’s his decision making. Young talents are often quite raw and tend to play instinctively. This regularly leads to youngsters playing too carelessly. They dribble when it’s better to pass, they pass when it’s better to dribble. While Mbappé isn’t immune to these issues, they don’t occur too frequently. It’s one aspect of his game that is so impressive to me. He is efficient and economical with the ball. He plays simply when he should, he dribbles when he should, and he shoots when he should. This is a sign of a top player and to have such an understanding at this young of an age is phenomenal.

Kylian Mbappé is 19. He’s already led an unheralded side to a league title, secured a 180 million euro transfer, scored in multiple Champions League games against the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Juventus, and he’s now leading France to the World Cup wearing the famous #10 shirt once worn by Platini and Zidane. All of this in essentially 18 months of top flight football. It’s been a remarkable rise to stardom, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, and it’s why Kylian Mbappé quite rightly tops our 22under22 countdown.

Written by Marc Geschwind (@mgesch13)