2017: The year of Kylian Mbappé - a true teenage mutant

Few footballers achieved a year quite as explosive as Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappé, who only turned 19 days before Christmas but ends 2017 with 32 goals across all competitions.

2017: The year of Kylian Mbappé - a true teenage mutant
(Picture: Getty Images - Catherine Ivill)

With goalscorers ultimately the most in-demand commodities within football, the general barometer used to distinguish the elite strikers from their ordinary counter-parts is the goals-to-game ratio.

A player averaging or bettering the benchmark record of one goal every two games across a sustained period - or an entire career - proves their output is not merely a consequence of luck or a freakish run of form in front of goal but an indication of genuine quality.

Take Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's otherworldly scoring records as the most extreme examples, netting 613 goals in 785 games (0.78 goals per game) and 624 in 887 (0.70 gpg) for club and country respectively. 

So what does it say, then, that having only turned 19 on Wednesday (December 20th), Kylian Sanmi Mbappé Lottin's goalscoring record at club level reads 81 games played and 39 goals scored?

Well, quite a lot, actually.

Few players have achieved quite such lofty feats in their teens and the majority of those who have remain rightly regarded among the game's greatest; the likes of the Brazilian Ronaldo, Pelé and Messi.

Mbappé's already-breathtaking career - even in its early stages - pits him as not just one of the best young players in the world, but among even the best players in the world full stop, and the year 2017 will forever be associated with the rise of Mbappé; a rise that seems only set for one conclusion: stardom.

That he is such an accomplished player already certainly suggests that he is capable of standing among the game's greats in 15 to 20 years time. Yet while he has shown so much quality so consistently already in his career, his ceiling is still staggeringly high.

 

Marvellous Mbappé rewriting the records

The Frenchman's numbers speak for themselves. In a generation when goals and assists are elevated to such a high status - above any other statistical measure - when determining individual quality, Mbappé ended the calendar year with 32 goals (and also 16 assists) in 52 games. In other words, an average of 0.61 goals per game.

To be directly involved in 48 goals in 52 games, even when playing in an astonishing AS Monaco title-winning team and then in a frightening forward line at Paris Saint-Germain, a club seemingly nearing its continental zenith, is a magnificent output for a player at any age.

To do so at the mere age of 18, having played just one of those 52 matches of the year aged 19 - with Mbappé scoring a goal and laying on a world-class assist in a 3-1 win against SM Caen on the day of his actual birthday on Wednesday - is nearly impossible to comprehend.

Mbappé, it must be said, is an incredibly rare talent; a bonafide phenomenon even so early in his career. He is the finest teenage talent - certainly across Europe's major leagues, but perhaps anywhere on the globe - since Ronaldo, who managed 38 goals in 1995 for PSV Eindhoven

Indeed, the Bondy-born youngster's tally for the year of 32 goals is the best of any player under the age of 21 in Europe's top 10 leagues since O Fenômeno's haul 22 years ago.

And to think, it was only two years ago that Mbappé became Monaco's youngest-ever first-team player at the sprightly age of 16 years and 347 days, eclipsing Thierry Henry's long-standing record.

Mbappé - who has been consistently compared with the former Arsenal and Barcelona front-man - then broke another Henry-owned record when he became the club's youngest goalscorer at 17 years and 62 days in February 2016.

That was the prodigious attacker's only goal of the season, but he penned his first professional contract in March and went on to make 14 senior appearances in 2015-16.

Three goals in nine Ligue 1 matches followed the next campaign, before he truly cemented his 'wonderkid' status with his first senior hat-trick in a 7-0 cup win over Stade Rennais in December 2016.

That awakened neutrals worldwide to Mbappé's spectacular potential and just a few months into 2017, his stock rose exponentially to the point that everyone was well aware of his awe-inspiring ability.

 

Champions League form the pinnacle of Mbappé's year

He scored his first ever league treble against FC Metz two months after his 18th birthday in February this year, taking his total for the season into double figures, and somehow Mbappé bettered his form in the French league under the bright spotlight of the Champions League.

His display in a breathless 5-3 defeat at Manchester City, the first leg of an enthralling last-16 tie back in February, reflected his notable maturity and composure - firing high into the roof of the net to make it 2-1 in the first half. 

Despite leading 2-1 and 3-2, Monaco surrendered their advantage but would make amends in the return clash. Unsurprisingly, Mbappé was once again crucial - diverting a low cross past Claudio Bravo on eight minutes as Les Monégasques won 3-1 and progressed via away goals.

And a run of six goals in four games convinced France manager Didier Deschamps to declare that "quality has no age", handing Mbappé his international debut against Luxembourg to make him the country's second-youngest debutant.

The next of his incessant accomplishments came as a result of more stunning form on the continent in Monaco's Champions League last eight affair with Borussia Dortmund.

Mbappé managed three goals in 180 minutes against the Germans, becoming the youngest ever player to score in both legs of a quarter final, and the second of his first-leg brace was typical of his confidence, coolness and class.

A clinical finishing after nipping in to intercept an under-hit pass as he jetted clear of Dortmund's defence to go one-on-one and side-foot into the top corner served up more evidence to validate that Mbappé's exploits were not a coincidence. 

The goals continued at an impressively-steady rate in the league, but it was in Europe that he truly shone - perhaps stimulated by the grandeur of the competition.

His goals against Dortmund helped to set up a crunch semi-final tie with Juventus in a battle of attack-vs-defence, but it was the resilient Italians who came out on top - winning the first leg 2-0 in the principality.

The tie was already over when Mbappé made it 2-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate in the return leg, but his strike saw him break another record by becoming the competition's youngest scorer at the semi-final stage.

And just over a week later Mbappé's run of 20 goals in 23 games across all competitions culminated with the opening goal in Monaco's 2-0 home defeat of Saint-Etienne - one that ensured the club's first title in 17 years.

A fitting finale that it would be for Mbappé, whose development owed so much to Monaco's tremendous youth system, to produce the decisive goal. 

Jardim's charges went unbeaten from December 18th in the league, winning 18 of 20 games, and it is no surprise that Mbappé featured in all but one of those matches - scoring or assisting in 12.

And he ended the 2016-17 campaign with another brilliant performance in a friendly against England where he was centre stage throughout and his energy and creativity helped ensure a 3-2 win.

By that time, the opening of transfer window edged ever nearer and after such an astounding break-out season, Mbappé was arguably the most sought-after player in the world in the summer.

It was inevitable that a big-money move would come. Every high-profile European club was touted as Mbappé's new destination, with clubs like Real Madrid, Manchester City and Arsenal particularly heavily linked.

And it was PSG - the Qatari-backed powerhouse of French football and one of just two teams to beat Monaco in French league or cup competition last term - who Mbappé eventually joined, sealing a deadline-day loan move expected to become a permanent switch.

And just four months on, it appears the forward is almost certain to add another title winner's medal - his second in as many full seasons as a senior pro - to his collection with PSG restoring their monopoly of Ligue 1.

Unai Emery's men are nine points clear and have won 23 of 27 games in all competitions, and while Mbappé's time with the Parisians has not always gone smoothly - the records have continued to flow.

Mbappé became the youngest player (and only teenager) to score 10 Champions League goals by a month shy of two years, displacing countryman Karim Benzema, after scoring against Bayern Munich.

Having been named Ligue 1's Young Player of the Year last season, he convincingly won the Golden Boy award in October and finished seventh - behind only winner Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Gianluigi BuffonLuka Modrić and Sergio Ramos - after just his first full season as a senior pro in the 2017 Ballon d'Or in early December.

The natural pressures of Mbappé's move and a positional change - having operated so successfully usually as the more advanced of a front two for Monaco last season and now playing wide right for PSG - also having an impact.

But he has overcome minor issues with the mental strength of a player well beyond his years to ended 2017 on an enormous high, scoring in all of his last five games and also laying on four assists in his last three games - combining devastatingly with Edinson Cavani

So much so, that no French player has managed more goals and assists in 2017 - Mbappé even outperforming established strikers like Alexandre Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann and Nabil Fekir.

He is already close to reaching double figures for goals (eight) and assists (eight) in Ligue 1 - having been the only player to do so last season - and has 12 goals and 11 assists in 23 games in all competitions with his production showing no signs of abating.

 

A long list of physical and mental talents

And his unbelievable feats - and the reason that the destructive Mbappé has won so many advocates - owes to his exceedingly long list of talents.

His body frame, particularly those stretching, almost gangly legs, appears awkward but his technique is anything but. His agility, fighter jet-like acceleration and close control makes him a nightmarish prospect to defend against one-on-one.  

His movement, intelligence and off-the-shoulder running mean he is as deadly from a central position as he is in coming inside from a wide role, though he has yet to play as a lone front-man.

His ability in transitions, his hypersonic speed on and off of the ball, made him as crucial as anyone in Monaco's high-octane attack last term - with his creativity opening up various avenues and his nerveless finishing putting an end to a series of counter-attacks.

And he is as dangerous a player as any of PSG's forward line, with Mbappé just as likely to deliver a telling blow as Cavani or Neymar - arguably the most fearsome front three in existence.

As a flexible forward, Mbappé has very few weaknesses, perhaps his aerial ability and occasionally his decision making in promising positions, although the odd irrational choice is to be expected at this stage of his career.

In terms of his more all-rounded game, his defensive contributions have come under some scrutiny - more so his tracking back and covering than his final-third pressing and intercepting, but those are easily corrigible facets of his play.

Perhaps his best trait is the mental strength and sheer drive that Arsène Wenger alluded to when speaking about Arsenal's interest in Mbappé earlier this year, specifically hailing his "motivation, desire and intelligence."

Humility, too, is another of Mbappé's assets, judging from the Canal+ interview he did back in June in which he distanced himself from the constant Henry comparisons and insisted he has "not done anything yet."

"I still have everything to learn, this year was discovery, and now comes the most important step: Confirmation," he said, and so far, so good. His senior career may only be two years old, but he is following up his first act with an equally-impressive sequel.

To combine such psychological qualities with his physical attributes makes for a player who any club in the world would wish to own. PSG will have no qualms about paying the £133 million up-front fee agreed with Monaco next summer, currently owning the forward only on loan.

And the teenage prodigy, who is likely to become the second most expensive footballer in history behind £198 million PSG team-mate Neymar if all follow-up fees end up being paid, still has the capacity to get so much better.

The New Year promises even more special things to come, particularly with the World Cup - surely Mbappé's first major international tournament barring any injury - awaiting and PSG's free-scoring Champions League form - with European supremacy top of their to-do list. 

The fact they meet 12-time winners Real Madrid, who won the competition in 2017 and 2016, in the round of 16 in a mouthwatering heavyweight tie only stirs the pot more.

The build-up will surely focus heavily on Neymar's desire to surpass Ronaldo (and also Messi), but it also represents a chance for Mbappé to add another highlight to his already glittering showreel.

PSG's No.29 is said to have idolised Cristiano Ronaldo growing up, and how he would love to produce another big moment on the biggest stage to down the Portuguese and the reigning European champions.

Yet that is a mere footnote in what everyone expects to be another sensational year for the player, who has already gone some way to validating his talent in less than half-way through the season.

As Mbappé said himself, his personal target must be to continue to prove his form is not a flash in the pain - but he will also be keen to improve on the international stage, with one goal in 10 appearances so far representing a slow return by his standards.

Perhaps, given his form in the Champions League, he is just waiting to set the World Cup alight too. One thing's for sure, how Mbappé performs can help have a huge say on France's fortunes in Russia.

Mbappé is redefining what can be expected from such a young footballer in the modern game. He has raised the benchmark so high, no-one may ever even match his exploits, never mind beat them.

Donatello may just be a jokey nickname pertaining to his resemblance to the crime-fighting ninja turtle, but Mbappé's last 12 months have shown that he is quite the teenage mutant.