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Why the ‘unstoppable’ Kylian Mbappé now wears the crown as world’s best player

<i>GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>Messi and Mbappé both play for French club Paris-Saint Germain.
AFP via Getty Images
Messi and Mbappé both play for French club Paris-Saint Germain.

By Ben Church, CNN

At just 23, Kylian Mbappé has won more in his short career than most players are ever able to achieve.

He’s already claimed five domestic titles in France, scored 250 career goals and, four years ago, lifted the World Cup trophy.

Despite already proving he belongs among the elite, Mbappé has continued to improve season upon season and this year’s World Cup arguably feels like the moment he steps out alone as the best player in the world.

It’s a title that doesn’t come without dispute, though.

While an aging Cristiano Ronaldo can no longer stake a claim, Mbappé’s Paris Saint-Germain teammate Lionel Messi — who has won seven Ballon d’Or awards — has produced some mesmeric performances for Argentina in Qatar. And let’s not forget players such as Erling Haaland, who failed to qualify for the tournament with Norway, but who promises to challenge Mbappé for accolades.

But, with this being Messi’s final World Cup, former France international and current Bordeaux coach Rio Mavuba says this tournament has seen the baton of greatness passed onto Mbappé.

“In this World Cup, it’s been the transfer of power from Messi to Mbappé,” he told CNN, ahead of the pair’s showdown in the World Cup final on Sunday.

“Messi is still one of the greatest, maybe the best player of all time, but, at this point, Mbappé can eat at the same table as Messi.

“When he’s focused, he’s probably the best player in the world.”

Mavuba made 13 appearances for France and was included in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

He’s watched from afar as a young Mbappé has matured quickly into France’s most important player and says the attacker’s pace and finishing prowess makes him “unstoppable” at times.

Mbappé was born and raised in Bondy, a suburb of Paris 11 kilometers from the city center and, aside from a two-year spell playing for Monaco, has lived in the French capital his entire life.

His spell at Monaco, where he won his first league title, caught the world’s attention and the teenage sensation moved to PSG in 2017, initially on loan for the first year.

The deal was reported to be worth $214 million but Mbappé seemed to take it all in his stride.

Despite all the trophies he’s won and goals he’s scored, Mavuba says the forward is only now coming into his prime.

“For sure, he’s got a lot of speed but I think the best skill is he can do a lot of things. He can run fast, he can dribble, he can score, this is why it’s very difficult to catch him,” he said.

‘He’s been gifted’

While Mbappé’s physical attributes are undeniable, it’s his ability to cope with such intense pressure that separates him from the others, according to former Paris Saint-Germain captain Didier Domi.

Domi, who played over 100 games for PSG and who now works for the club’s academy in Qatar, says Mbappé holds the weight of a nation on his shoulders but it seems his value reaches beyond just his performances on the pitch, and into the political arena.

French President Emmanuel Macron intervened earlier this year to implore the young star to stay at PSG amid a transfer saga involving Spanish giant Real Madrid.

But despite all the pressure that comes both on and off the field, Mbappé continues to produce the goods.

“His game is so unbelievable but the way he lifts the team, this is what has impressed me the most, mentally,” Domi told CNN.

“We know his qualities with his feet but mentally he’s staying in that zone, as a leader, always being crucial for the team. It’s impressive.

“He’s got a talent, of course, but he’s got a talent in his head as well. He controls his nerves and that’s part of the game.

“It’s unbelievable, he doesn’t feel pressure. He’s been gifted.”

While Mbappé has likely over a decade left to play at the top level, Qatar 2022 also marks the end of arguably the greatest rivalry in football history — with it being the last time we see Ronaldo and Messi play at a World Cup.

But as that chapter closes, Mbappé has the chance to take center stage.

“He [Mbappé] will be the legacy of Messi and Ronaldo, maybe he’s already the best player in the world,” Domi added.

“He doesn’t have the vision of Messi but, at his best, Mbappé is the best player in the world. He can make a difference at every moment.”

Better than Zidane?

Mbappé has scored five goals in Qatar — level as top goalscorer with Messi — bringing his World Cup total to nine from just two tournaments.

Just Fontaine is the only Frenchman to score more World Cup goals — netting all 13 of his efforts in 1958.

More importantly, Mbappé is on the verge of winning his second successive World Cup, something that would make him potentially the greatest French player in history, according to Mavuba.

“If he won the second World Cup, he’d probably be the best French player,” Mavuba said.

“I love [Zinedine] Zidane but imagine, 23 years old, two World Cups, he’d be the best.”

Zidane was part of the World Cup-winning team in 1998 and the midfield maestro won the Ballon d’Or the same year.

Mbappé is still waiting for his first Ballon d’Or, but Mavuba insists achieving glory with the national team matters more than any individual accolade.

“It’s very difficult to win the World Cup, you see Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar [not win one], but Mbappé has a chance to win two World Cups,” he said.

“It’s better to win two World Cups than to win five or seven Ballon d’Or awards.”

With Messi’s Argentina the only hurdle standing in his way, Mbappé has a huge opportunity to stake a claim to the title of world’s best player.

In truth, he has a long way to go before he matches the legacies of Ronaldo and Messi but already, at such a young age, he’s done things that those other superstars have so far failed to do.

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