Kylian Mbappe: The entire PSG project rests on the shoulders of the world's most feared footballer

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Kylian Mbappe PSG 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The forward is destined to win the Champions League - the only doubt is whether he will do so with or without his hometown club...

One day in 2013, Monaco technical director Riccardo Pecini was sitting in his office when the club's head of recruitment arrived with a list of 10 teenage footballers and a DVD.

"He said that none of these players would cost any money to sign – except one, called Kylian Mbappe. And when I saw the fee, it seemed a bit much to me," Pecini told GOAL.

"But the head of recruitment said to me, 'You have to see him'. So, we watched the player together and I said, 'Whatever we have to spend, we'll spend! Go straight there!'

"He jumped on a plane, went to the home of the boy and quickly returned with Mbappe and his family!"

The point of the story? Some players are predestined, as they say in Italy. Their potential is obvious, the path to superstardom clear.

Manchester United's players knew that they had just been run ragged by a unique talent when they faced Sporting CP starlet Cristiano Ronaldo in August 2003.

Charly Rexach was so sure that he had a legend in the making on his hands that he effectively signed Lionel Messi for Barcelona by making a formal commitment to the player’s father on a restaurant napkin in December 2000.

Mbappe's origin story will be told with the same level of reverence in years to come.

He was always going to be great. And he knew that himself.

"I have had a career plan since I was young," he admitted to RMC.

And for the kid that used to have posters of Ronaldo on his bedroom walls, the end goal was to emulate his idol by being crowned the best player on the planet.

Mbappe has yet to achieve that particular objective but a first Ballon d'Or is now within reach.

  1. Mbappe fully fit and firing again

    Mbappe fully fit and firing again

    Certainly, there's no more feared footballer in the world right now.

    Bayern Munich are 1-0 up on aggregate going into Wednesday's Champions League last-16 showdown with Paris Saint-Germain at the Allianz Arena and only twice in the tournament's history have they ever blown a first-leg lead in a knockout tie.

    Julian Nagelsmann's side have also won all seven of their games in this season's competition, conceding just one goal in the process.

    By complete contrast, their French opponents haven't managed to keep a single clean sheet to date.

    Bayern, then, should be the clear favourites to progress to the quarter-finals and yet they're not, for one reason and one reason alone: Mbappe.

    The Bavarians have won 15 of their last 17 home games in the Champions League but their only defeat during that remarkable run came in the 2020-21 quarter-finals, against PSG. Mbappe scored twice that night, and once on his only other visit to the Allianz Arena, in 2017-18.

    And the bad news for Bayern is that their Boogeyman is back, the most terrifying talent in world football today now restored to the PSG starting line-up after being restricted to just over half an hour of action in the first leg because of a thigh injury.

  2. Nothing prepares you for the pace
    Getty Images

    Nothing prepares you for the pace

    Mbappe really was only half-fit that night. He admitted himself that he shouldn't have played. And yet his introduction transformed both PSG and the entire complexion of the contest.

    The hosts had only managed one effort on goal during the opening half and even that arrived in stoppage time – making for their longest wait for a shot in the Champions League since records began in 2004.

    As soon as Mbappe set foot on the pitch, though, the game changed.

    It wasn't just that he added penetration to the PSG attack, having two goals disallowed for offside, his mere presence provoked panic in the Bayern backline.

    That's hardly surprising, of course. We're talking about a player so frightening that he can sit down a defender without even touching the ball.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for the pace. It's even breath-taking from up in the stands.

    When Mbappe hit full stride during the game against Australia at the 2022 World Cup, one New Zealand journalist in the press box who had never watched the winger in the flesh before exclaimed, "Jesus Christ!"

    A seasoned Mbappe-watcher laughed, "It's unreal, isn't it?"

    "It's not just unreal," came the reply, "it's unfair!"

    It certainly feels that way for some defenders.

    "I spent the afternoon watching his clips and I knew it was going to be a tough test," Matty Cash explained after Poland's meeting with Mbappe.

    "But when he gets the ball, stops and moves, he’s the quickest thing I’ve ever seen.

    "I’m watching the videos while lying in bed! In real life, he’s burning my legs – that's the difference."

    And that's why he makes such a difference to this PSG line-up.

  3. Neymar injury a blessing in disguise

    Christophe Galtier has done a decent job since taking over last summer but let's face it, this remains a grossly unbalanced side, primarily because the club's owners have invested so much money in the forward line.

    In that sense, sad as it is to say, Neymar's injury-enforced absence should prove a blessing in disguise for PSG.

    They've certainly looked a far more cohesive unit since the Brazilian suffered a potentially season-ending ankle sprain against Lille last month, not least because it means they have one less forward to carry from a defensive perspective.

    However, it's also benefited PSG offensively. In the two-and-a-half games they've played without Neymar, Mbappe and Messi have combined for seven goals and three assists.

    And to think that there were doubts over how they might work together after the most emotionally-draining final in World Cup history.

  4. Mbappe's remarkable recovery

    Both attackers certainly appeared to suffer something of a hangover from Qatar 2022, but that was wholly unsurprising.

    Messi essentially completed football on a truly remarkable night in Lusail, while Mbappe suffered a devastating defeat.

    As Argentina's victorious captain said himself, it was "crazy" that the France forward ended up on the losing side after hitting a historic hat-trick in the tournament decider.

    We know how much importance Mbappe attached to the World Cup, too. It had become, as he admitted himself, "an obsession", around which he had constructed his whole season.

    Such a spirit-sapping setback, then, could have crushed a lesser character.

    But Mbappe is made of sterner stuff, and has responded like a true champion, immediately switching his attention from winning a second World Cup with France to winning a first Champions League with PSG.

    Indeed, his form since recovering from injury has been fantastic, with the 24-year-old hitting five goals in his last three Ligue 1 outings.

  5. The hometown hero

    The last of those strikes obviously saw him become PSG's all-time leading scorer – the realisation of a dream for the local lad turned global superstar.

    "I've always said that I wanted to write history in France, in the capital, in my country, in my city," he told Canal+. "I'm doing it, it's beautiful, but there's still a long way to go."

    Indeed, he left Monaco for PSG to win the Champions League, there is simply no hiding that fact.

    And yet here we are, with PSG still trophy-less and facing a fourth last-16 elimination since Mbappe moved to the Parc des Princes in 2017.

    The Bondy native has insisted that Wednesday's second leg against Bayern will not affect his desire to stay at PSG in any way, shape or form.

    He even made an amusing reference to the club's European failure, quipping, "If I linked my future to the Champions League, I would be long gone!"

    However, PSG simply cannot rely on Mbappe's love of his hometown to keep him away from the clutches of Real Madrid, who remain patiently waiting in the wings despite being so publicly spurned by the player last summer.

    His delight at breaking Edinson Cavani's record last weekend was obvious, and the club made a suitably big deal out of the achievement.

    But Mbappe was quick to point out, "It's a personal accomplishment, but I also came for collective accomplishments."

    In the Champions League, essentially.

  6. PSG's project on the line

    PSG's project on the line

    In that sense, the Bayern game actually feels more important for PSG than Mbappe.

    Their entire project could hinge upon the outcome.

    Neymar's career in Paris is already over. As revealed by GOAL, the club were already open to selling him last summer and they will be even keener to get rid of the brilliant but injury-prone Brazilian at the end of the current campaign.

    The hope, of course, is that Lionel Messi will extend his contract but the Argentine is still mulling over his options.

    Even if he stays, though, it's clear that the MNM era is undoubtedly drawing to a close, which may be no bad thing for PSG, of course.

    It might at least result in transfer spending being more evenly spread throughout the squad.

    What is absolutely imperative to PSG's project, though, is retaining Mbappe, who, as GOAL has outlined, has now become the undisputed leader of the dressing room.

    The special powers he was granted by the club in a desperate bid to convince him to stay at the Parc des Princes initially caused problems, most infamously with Neymar, but that power struggle is over.

    Mbappe was the clear victor and he has won over any doubters within the dressing room with his exemplary conduct since returning from Qatar.

    His captaincy qualities have also been on show in recent weeks, with Mbappe often first out to face the media after matches, regardless of the result.

    Indeed, he has repeatedly made a point of telling the press, and his team-mates, that the Bayern tie is far from over. On the contrary, he continues to insist that PSG remain the favourites to progress. And with him starting up front, they arguably are.

    That is how important he has become to Galtier's team but also PSG, because arguably no other super-club's status is more dependent upon the presence of bona fide superstars, and Mbappe is the heir to Messi and Ronaldo as the game's next 'GOAT'.

    He is essential to their brand, their appeal and continued relevance as an organisation, given the unfair perception of Ligue 1 as a sub-standard competition.

    That is why so much significance is attached to the Champions League, and why another last-16 exit would be so catastrophic.

    Mbappe clearly cares deeply about PSG and he will give everything for the cause at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.

    He's already proved that by rushing his return to feature in the first leg. And with him on the field, once again the impossible seems possible.

    But if PSG bow out, difficult questions will once again be asked because, as he's made clear all along, Kylian Mbappe has a career plan, and it involves winning the Champions League.

    And rest assured, he will do so, with or without Paris Saint-Germain.