Now almost the finished article


DOHA, Qatar – Four years is a long time in football, but players will tell you the time has passed between Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022. For some, it may have seemed even quicker.

Since winning the World Cup four years ago, Kylian Mbappe’s life has been a whirlwind of emotions and success. In no particular order: there was the decision to stay at Paris Saint-Germain and snub Real Madrid last May; missed the decisive penalty in France’s round of 16 shootout loss to Switzerland at Euro 2020; the 2020 Champions League final loss to Bayern Munich after missing a big chance when the score was still 0-0. There are the three Ligue 1 titles won, the 193 goals scored, the 93 assists recorded, the formation of the partnership with Neymar and Lionel Messi and the 2021 UEFA Nations League triumph.

Most important, however, is that Mbappe is obviously not the same player as he was four years ago.

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“Kylian in 2018 wasn’t the same player. He didn’t have the same personality,” said France teammate Antoine Griezmann. “You see him a lot more in the squad now and in training. He talks a lot and puts a lot of joy of living in the daily life of the team.

Let’s not forget that the Mbappé of 2018 was a prodigy, still only 19 years old, considered “rising” and still untested to some extent. However, the Mbappé of 2022 is on another planet. He is 23 years old, the best player in this World Cup, the best player in the world and a real world superstar in his own right.

His evolution on the field, in his way of playing, scoring, behaving, is quite obvious. “He took his game to the next level,” said striker Olivier Giroud. “He’s improved on every level. He’s stronger, smarter, faster, a better finisher.”

The Mbappé of 2018 was very motivated, but he had not yet found his voice. He wanted to be the best in the world, but at this point he still had to improve and learn. The Mbappé of 2022 is not far from the finished article. He excels in all departments, especially in front of goal, where he has become even more clinical: 50% of his shots are on target this season compared to 45% last season.

Of course, there is still room for improvement. Sometimes he dribbles too much, and he could be better in the air. There is also room for improvement when he plays alone up front, receiving the ball with his back to goal.

Overall though, the Mbappe of 2022 is stepping all over the Mbappe of 2018. He’s more of a leader now, and that’s so evident in this competition.

As Griezmann admitted, Mbappe is one of the bosses of the French dressing room. In 2018, he was still laying low, eating his pasta and salmon, chilling with his PlayStation and working out in training. In 2022, he is much more vocal: he teases people to keep the atmosphere light and takes on the task of guiding the group, especially the younger generation. He clashed with the French FA over image rights on behalf of the team, all of whom were entirely behind him. He’ll wear the captain’s armband (currently with veteran keeper Hugo Lloris) sooner or later, there’s no doubt, and that may see his next evolution.

“He knows he’s important to us and every move will be watched by fans, journalists, his teammates,” Griezmann said. “He is beyond reproach.”

Thanks to his exploits on the pitch, Mbappe has become a global superstar. His social media following is huge (9.39 million followers on Twitter, 75.8 million on Instagram), his endorsement deals are huge (he’s #35 on the Forbes list of highest paid athletes) and it has the potential to enter the pop culture conversation. in a way that players like David Beckham have before him.

One of Mbappe’s most famous quotes is something he said to his friend Antoine Le Roy for a documentary on French TV channel Canal+ in May 2018: “Don’t talk to me about age. If you’re good enough, you’re in the field, period. There’s no ‘you’re old enough, or you’re not old enough.'” He was right, though he still had a ways to go despite all his incredible talent.

Four years later, he must be happy with where he is and how far he’s come. And in four years, how much will the Mbappé of 2026 still have grown? There’s no reason to suggest he won’t keep getting better and better.



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