As the dust settles on an extraordinarily entertaining World Cup in Russia, there is an element of sadness that accompanies the memories of the tournament. Football fans are left to reflect on the fact that, for eight years at least, the level of engagement and passion generated this summer will be put on hold.
It’s hard to predict if, in four years time, Qatar 2022 will present the beer-throwing ecstasy and football fever generated by an England run, as we partied in the hot sun. The thought of mulled wine and egg-nog being launched into a dark December sky is as unusual as it is slightly unsettling, as the football calendar is altered by the insanity of FIFA’s desire to host a World Cup in the desert.
Thankfully, despite the unnervingly money-orientated direction international tournaments are spiralling towards, this World Cup provided genuine cause for excitement and anticipation, as Kylian Mbappé has thrust himself to the notice of even the most casual fans. Beyond the understandable pre-tournament hype, most football fans will already have been aware of this incredible talent. Last summer became the most expensive teenager in footballing history when he was signed by his hometown club Paris Saint Germain, after being courted by Europe’s most reputable sides. While this transfer was bankrolled by the Qatari millions that threaten the identity of the World Cup itself, the most staggering element of his £169 million move is the fact that this young man is worth every single penny.
In the tenth minute of France’s last-16 match against Argentina, Mbappé nipped clear of Nicolas Taglifico’s outstretched leg, and surged into the consciousness of the wider world, driving through the opposition half with the bravery, intent and conviction that commonly come to define the world’s greatest sportsmen, elbows jutting towards the sky in his distinctive sprinting style.
Mbappé is so exciting because he is more than a great footballer, and his exploits as a 19-year-old in the finals of this tournament have rightly drawn comparisons with Pelé, who was also 19 when he scored in a World Cup final. Mbappé is already roaring towards the legendary status afforded to the Brazilian icon.
Mbappé already exudes an aura that not even Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo possessed at the same age, an aura that conveys the imperious combination of talent and belief of a genuine superstar, like Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and Usain Bolt. Arsene Wenger, in his celebratory appraisal of the player, described him as “exceptionally intelligent, he has exceptional character, and exceptional belief” and it is these traits that, beyond sporting comparisons, have led the young Frenchman being compared to Barack Obama, so cultivated, sensible and engaging is he.
Mbappé is blazing a trail that should excite the world, not just football fans. Whatever your opinions are on the eye-watering amounts of money that dictate football, rub your eyes and believe in football’s newest, and potentially, greatest hero.