These Football Times and COPA90 have teamed up to bring you the story of Kylian Mbappe’s rise from Bondy to FIFA 21 cover star.
Every inch of his bedroom walls plastered with posters of his idol Cristiano Ronaldo, a young Kylian Mbappé lies on his bed, chin cupped in his hands and his eyes cast heavenwards as though envisaging a glittering future.
It is a photograph in which a moment of boyish expectation is permanently frozen in time. A time when Kylian Mbappé was just one of many young dreamers from the banlieue of Bondy. A time before he himself would ascend to the pinnacle of the sport that has enriched his life, and come to adorn the walls of young boys and girls across the globe.
For over a decade, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have ruled together in the bright court of world football, but, as they reach the end of their respective reigns, the game has begun the process of anointing its new king. Mbappé is the monarch-elect, and it is only a matter of time before the sport bestows upon Mbappé the Ballon d’Or, the final jewel in a crown that is growing heavy with the spoils of his accomplishments.
At 21 years of age, he has conquered nearly all the game of football has to offer. His mantlepiece practically groans with the silverware he has accumulated in five short years: a World Cup – where he was named player of the tournament at 19, no less – four Ligue 1 titles, two Coupe de France and Coupe de Ligues apiece, and a Champions League runners-up medal.
On a personal level, he has twice topped the Ligue 1 goalscoring charts, registered the quickest hat-trick in Champions League history, became the youngest footballer to reach 16 goals in European competition and reached a half-century of professional goals before he was even old enough to drink.
Thus, it is no surprise to see football’s newest global star has followed in the footsteps of Ronaldo and Messi in becoming the face of the game. In recognition of his achievements, he graces this year’s edition of the FIFA video game. In doing so, he becomes the youngest ever solo cover star.
In COPA90’s latest short film, ’93 Famille’ tells the story of Kylian Mbappé’s hometown of Bondy, a small town in Seine Saint Denis in the Paris suburbs, otherwise known as the 93. It was here where a young Kylian first kicked a ball and was taught the values that set him on his path to superstardom.
The pillars of community and family fuel success throughout the 93, allowing Kylian and other local creatives like photographer Marvin Bonheur, designer Aïssé N’Diaye and musician Ichon to excel in their respective fields and prove you can go further with the support of those around you than you ever could alone.
Typically, the FIFA cover star spot is regarded as a fairly accurate barometer of public opinion. In the past, Ronaldo, Messi, Reus, Rooney, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Henry and Del Piero have all filled the berth with aplomb, their selection typically mirroring their insatiable form and soaring popularity.
On the one hand, Mbappé’s talents as a player are undisputed. Since he first began kicking a ball around in wonder during his formative years, his proclivity for the sport was evident. Astonishingly quick, a superb dribbler, a capable provider and an expert finisher, the young French forward possesses all the requisite abilities that have long characterised the very finest footballers.
There is a palpable sense of excitement within stadiums grand and humble whenever he receives the ball. It is inescapable, unavoidable – rooted in the base human desire to experience enjoyment. It is the timeworn mark of a superstar. Defenders are terrified of him, his contemporaries are envious of him, and yet, his talents with the ball alone are only half of the mystique of Mbappé.
Without his enviable talents, he would not have become the darling of an entire nation and the focal point of a team that includes his closest rival to Messi and Ronaldo’s throne in Neymar, but, perhaps more importantly, Mbappé is the living representative of an ideal. For many of the disadvantaged children growing up in the troubled northern banlieue of Bondy in Paris, Mbappé is, simply put, hope.
Such is the reputation of this suburb, which has traditionally been associated with high crime rates, poor education and limited job opportunities, that it is often an obstacle to youthful ambitions. Yet, in Mbappé, the children of Bondy and beyond have a tangible pioneer whom they can aspire to emulate.
His precipitous rise from amateur club AS Bondy to the Clairefontaine Academy and then on to Monaco, PSG and the national team has provided countless young boys and girls with the inspiration they need to better their own futures. Playing for France’s richest and most globally supported club, Mbappé’s exploits have acted as the catalyst for droves of aspiring footballers to flock to the myriad of amateur clubs that populate the various communes of Paris.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, Mbappé remains humble in recognition of his roots, citing his own mother as the figure who instilled in him the ideals of first becoming a great man before he becomes a great footballer. This was perhaps no more evident than when Mbappé, still only a young man of 20, donated €34,000 to the ultimately unsuccessful search and rescue effort for David Ibbotson and Emiliano Sala, and then later donated €26,000 to the former’s family in the wake of his death.
It is this humility that contributes enormously to him being such an endearing character in the eyes of the public. Despite openly acknowledging that he has never been able to enjoy a “normal life”, Mbappé professes no feelings of self-pity.
In a world that is growing increasingly more concerned with and considerate of the tenets of mental health, respect, kindness and equality, he has been positioned as a champion of these ideals. Such is his deference, that when asked if he’d rather play alongside Messi or Ronaldo in a hypothetical dream match, he elected to bench himself, so that he could savour watching the two play together instead.
His tale is one of humility and endeavour, supplemented by the marriage of ability and application, and one which has barely passed the opening chapter. The fact he is the world’s most expensive teenage footballer is immaterial; his position as one of the sport’s highest-paid athletes seems equally irrelevant. Fittingly, it is Ronaldo who summed up Mbappé most succinctly.
Where once an infatuated young French boy adorned his walls with posters of the Portuguese legend he idolised, in Cristiano Ronaldo’s mind, there is only one person fit to sit upon the throne he and Messi will soon reluctantly vacate. “Mbappé,” Ronaldo asserts. “He is the present and the future.”
By Josh Butler @joshisbutler90