Is Kylian Mbappe FIFA's crown prince?
Background photograph: Tears in Rain, CC BY-SA 4.0
Nothing hurt French fans more than seeing a one-legged Cristiano Ronaldo lifting the European trophy in their cathedral after 120 minutes of hard word from his compatriots. It was a night to forget for the host nation. You could feel the pain in Didier Deschamps as the cameras caught him watching the Selecao celebration.
He waited two years to make amends. Les Blues went all the way to win a bigger trophy in Russia. The entire squad gave their all but it was also the coming out party for the next great player in the game.
For any nation to successfully navigate a World Cup victory, it takes hard work, talent and individual brilliance in the extreme. Kylian Mbappe delivered all three for France in the final. Without Mbappe, France might not have made the final, let alone hoisted the trophy. Lionel Messi's Argentina might have sent them home.
Outclassing the Maestro at 20 years of age is no mean feat. Mbappe worked hard to win the trophy that keeps Messi and Ronaldo playing on the wrong side of 30. Neither has touched it, although the Argentine deserves to be the more disappointed. Mbappe will never know that angst.
The youngster is a genius. A rare gem, his lightning pace is an asset but hardly the only one. His control, vision, anticipation and positioning are all world-class. No defender wants to face him one-v-one. His dribbling breaks ankles. His finishing is prolific, his passing precise and imaginative. He has more quality than one human being deserves.
Among young players, he is peerless. The Champions League Round of 16 match with Manchester United proved as much. Presnel Kimpembe hauled down Marcus Rashford from behind without consequence, it's true, but no United player could get near Mbappe to do likewise. A few seasons back, arguments rose up about who’s better between Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. That argument is long settled.
Messi and Ronaldo were the last players to fly so high so young. Some are claiming Joao Felix is that good as well. We should be so lucky to be given two young gods again as the old ones fade.
Mbappe's future is unwritten but also an open book. It’s a beautiful sky too many shining stars. For now, he plays for the biggest, wealthiest team in France and is already a major force in modern day football. The domestic accolades will accumulate. The Champions League and European Championship are within reach.
If PSG fail to win the Champions League in this player cycle, Mbappe can expect to lift it elsewhere. Real Madrid and Barcelona both await. So does his choice of Manchester clubs. He can write his own ticket.
With Neymar and Cavani injured, Mbappe carried PSG past United with ease. They continue to boss Ligue 1 as well. Thomas Tuchel needn't worry about trusting a player barely out of his teens. Mbappe can deliver league titles and deep European runs. That he's already leading speaks volumes about the distance he can travel in his career.
Someday soon, Messi and Ronaldo will cede their places. The old gods will be dead. Long live the new one.