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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Paul Myers

Kylian Mbappé: Can the Bondy boy wonder dazzle as France's captain fantastic?

Kylian Mbappe gestures as he arrives for a training session at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris on March 23, 2023, on the eve of the UEFA Euro 2024 football tournament qualifier football match against Netherlands. AFP - FRANCK FIFE

Just a few weeks after becoming Paris Saint-German's record goal scorer, Kylian Mbappé revealed how he – as France skipper – wanted to lead the other star players in their international matches.

"I am the link between the generations," Mbappé said somewhat mystically in his first public comments about his new position within the senior team.

Expanding into metaphysics, he added: "The coach wants me to be a unifier, to bring my team along with me."

So far so Jedi.

A plethora of befuddled defenders and goalkeepers have experienced the full force of his powers.

Who would not follow Kylian Mbappé Lottin along his compelling course?

Born just before Christmas in 1998, he grew up in Bondy in the hydra of unheralded suburbs to the north of Paris.

He started kicking a ball about at AS Bondy where his father Wilfred, a former amateur player in Cameroon, trained the under-15s.

In 2011 he was taken into France's footballing hothouse in Clairefontaine on the leafy southern fringes of the capital and followed it with a place in the Monaco academy.


A couple of weeks shy of his 17th birthday in December 2015, he made his Ligue 1 debut for Monaco during a 1-1 draw against Caen. He was the club's youngest player to feature in the top flight. The first Ligue 1 goal came the following February against Troyes.

He smashed home 26 goals in Monaco's title-winning season in 2016/2017 and though coveted by the cream of European clubs, he moved to Paris Saint-Germain where he has racked up that club record of 202 goals.

As well as burnishing his legend at PSG, the France goalscoring record is well within view. Olivier Giroud boasts the honour with 53 strikes.

But, at 36, the AC Milan veteran is unlikely to gain many more opportunities to add to that tally.

Mbappé, just a few months on from his 24th birthday, has scored 36 goals for his country.


On Friday night at the Stade de France, he will lead the France attack seeking not only to close in on Giroud's mark but also successfully launch his captaincy.

"It's a new responsibility," said Mbappé on the eve of the clash against the Netherlands.

"I'm going to take it on naturally, it's not going to change how I play, but maybe the way I behave."

Former France international Robert Pires said he thought it might have been more judicious to hand the captain's armband to Antoine Griezmann until after the European championships in Germany next summer.


But the choice of France's head coach Didier Deschamps was endorsed by two of the most revered French footballers – former skipper Michel Platini as well as Alain Giresse.

The pair along with with Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez formed the "carré magique" (magic diamond) of Michel Hidalgo's bravura sides which claimed the 1984 European championships.

"It is a very good idea." said Platini. "By giving him the responsibility of captaincy, it allows Kylian to go even further, higher, stronger."

"There's no risk," said Giresse. "Mbappé is very much a player of today and he will be in tune with the other players."


Mbappé jousted jauntily with reporters during his first press conference as skipper on Thursday evening. A change from the somewhat deadpan sessions with Hugo Lloris.

"I won't be doing all the interviews," added Mbappé. "There will be opportunities for everyone. Each of the team has a role to play. I will choose my moments."

Deschamps anointed Mbappé captain and Griezmann vice-captain following the retirement of Lloris and Raphael Varane after the World Cup in Qatar.

Either of the duo could have been captain, said Deschamps.

But Mbappé - eight years younger than Griezmann – was accorded the honour. A nod to Mbappé's slightly slicker media image and perhaps a way to avoid rekindling the controversy involving Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé in 2021 where the on-tour Barcelona players appeared to ridicule Japanese technicians who had tried to repair a TV in their hotel room

Mbappé too has made his fair share of gaffes.


Last September he and his PSG boss Christophe Galtier faced accusations of failing to take climate change seriously when they mocked a suggestion that they should take the train rather than private planes for short-haul travel.

Galtier initially smirked at the idea while Mbappe bent double in laughter over the suggestion.

"We had a chat with our travel organisers earlier to see if we can travel by sand-yacht," Galtier replied.

After the clip went viral on social media, politicians and environmental campaigners ploughed in and condemned both men for being out-of-touch and arrogant at a time when Europe faced an energy crisis and spiralling temperatures linked to climate change.

"I think it's important that they realise what world we live in," said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.


"And that they are aware that there is a climate crisis that is no longer a hypothesis about tomorrow but a reality today."

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris tweeted: "It's not on to answer stuff like that???? Wake up guys??? This is Paris."

French climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte told French broadcaster France Inter that she wanted Mbappé to set an example.

"What he says, what he does, these things have an influence far beyond what scientists might say or do, because he inspires so many people."

Mbappé was lucidity incarnate and at the forefront of the attack when the French football supremo Noël Le Graët used a condescending tone while talking about the former France skipper Zinedine Zidane during an interview in January with the French broadcaster RMC.

It was a bold outburst for a footballer to denounce the president of the country's football federation.

But well judged.

Within a month, 81-year-old Le Graët was out of office.

The veteran administrator was forced to step down from the FFF amid a welter of accusations of sexual harassment.

An audit of the FFF also highlighted an acrimonious culture where executives traded invectives and employees were subjected to ritual humiliations at public meetings.

"He has resigned," said Mbappé drily on Thursday. "We must thank him for what he did because he did not only do negative things.

"But now he is no longer part of the scene around the French team."

Le Graët's interim successor Philippe Diallo – and whoever succeeds him – will have to deal with a team skipper who has made his feelings crystal clear about the use of his image for sponsors who do not align with his values and how he wants to portray himself.

"He is one of the world's great stars at the moment," said Jonathan Wilson, editor of the British football magazine The Blizzard. "In terms of ability, in terms of charisma, he is up there."


The game against the Netherlands – Argentina's victims in the last eight – should provide an instant test as to France's level following the disappointment of defeat in a final in Doha last December that was reanimated due to Mbappé's sang froid and the Argentina team's capacity for melodrama.

From a soporific procession to jagged edge thriller. It was a psychedelic trip for the ages.

Mbappé's brace brought the scores level at 2-2 and after Lionel Messi had restored Argentina's lead in extra-time, Mbappé converted a second penalty to equalise.

He also slotted in his spot kick during the shoot-out.

Though Messi and Argentina took away the trophy, Mbappé finished with the Golden Boot for his eight goals – the largest haul at the tournament since Brazil's Ronaldo fired in the same number during his country's surge to the title.

On Friday night at the Stade de France, 10 kilometres or so away from where he grew up, Mbappé will start writing the template for the modern international captain: undisputedly brilliant, unrepentantly outspoken and unremittingly ambitious.

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