Kylian Mbappé is faster than the wind, scores more goals than everyone except the man they call God, wins titles galore for club and country, and is already one of the three or four best players in the world. And still, the most difficult fact to wrap one’s mind around is that the guy is only 20 years old.
A 20-year-old is supposed to be one for the future. Because of that, it’s easy to view the accomplishments of someone so young primarily through the lens of future potential rather than present achievement. But the time for thinking about Mbappé in terms of what he might one day become are over. Mbappé is indeed a star for the future, but that future is already here.
On Tuesday, Mbappé reminded the world of just how singular a force he is right now. Recently returning to health after struggling with some injury troubles, the Frenchman started yesterday’s match between Paris Saint-Germain and Club Brugge from the bench. When the manager subbed him on, there was only a little more than half an hour to play—not much time for most, but more than enough for Mbappé to obliterate the opposition:
In his 38-minute substitute appearance, Mbappé scored his first career Champions League hat trick, plus added an assist for good measure. Those three goals saw him break Lionel Messi’s record as the youngest player to score 15 goals in Europe’s premier continental tournament; the PSG forward managed that feat at almost an entire year younger than the Barcelona legend. Mbappé is already carving his name into the history books of the most prestigious tournament in the world, and he’s only 20 years old.
Though all three of his goals and his one assist displayed the breadth of his talents, his second goal best distilled what exactly it is about Mbappé that has made him so great a player so quickly. His speed, his ingenious movement, his deft touch, his composure, his firm and accurate shooting from all angles—all of what makes Mbappé Mbappé was on display there:
Plenty of players have been fast, and plenty of players have been great finishers, but it’s hard to recall one in recent memory that paired pace and shooting quite like Mbappé. Maybe none since Cristiano Ronaldo, or maybe even since the Brazilian Ronaldo. Mbappé showed it on Tuesday, just as he regularly has as PSG’s centerpiece during teammate Neymar’s long injury absences over the past couple years, and as he did at the 2018 World Cup, where he was the tactical weapon that made France’s style work. Play him through the middle, on the left, on the right—it doesn’t really matter. As long as Mbappé is on the pitch, he’s almost guaranteed to do some major damage.
Mbappé isn’t a perfect player by any means, and he probably doesn’t have the all-encompassing array of skills to ever join Messi in true godhood. (Among his relative shortcomings: he’s less involved in the team’s general play than Messi or even Neymar, which makes it easier for him to go missing for long stretches; he’s more of a threat running at defenders with space than he is at maneuvering with the ball in tight spaces; he’s less self-sufficient; he doesn’t have elite passing vision or incisiveness.) But no player in the world looks more ready to lead the transition from the Messi-Ronaldo era into whatever comes next than Mbappé.
One day soon, Mbappé will probably be the very best player in the world, the brightest light to which all the other stars’ wattages are compared. But there’s no reason to wait until that day to fully appreciate his already mesmerizing brilliance.