Both the youngest and the oldest player in the 2018 French World Cup squad were of African origin – Kylian Mbappé, born in Paris in 1998 of African parents, and Steve Mandanda, born in Kinshasa in 1985. Michael Renouf reviews their careers
Since his professional debut for AS Monaco as a late substitute against SM Caen on 2 December 2015 at the tender age of 16, Mbappé’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric.
Kylian Sanmi Mbappé Lottin’s father Wilfried is Cameroonian while his mother, Fayza hails from Algeria. Luckily for the French national team, his parents had settled in France by the time Kylian was born in Paris on 20 December 1998, less than six months after the nation’s first World Cup triumph.
His first professional club however was not the Parisian powerhouse of PSG but rather Monaco, where Leonardo Jardim would give him his debut.
The next season, in 2017, he formed a lethal partnership with Colombian striker Radamel Falcao to bring the Ligue 1 title back to Monaco for the first time since the beginning of this century.
Manchester City fans in the UK may well remember him scoring in both legs of their round-of-16 Champions League contest. City won the home leg 5-3 before going down 3-1 in France, thus losing the tie on away goals. Monaco’s ride came to a halt in the semi-final when they lost both legs to Italian giants Juventus.
At that point, this exciting, attacking team was ‘dismantled’ as Mbappé and several of his high-class teammates, including Neymar, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiémoué Bakayokoto were sold to various clubs for a fortune.
Phenomenal strike rate
Mbappé headed to the city of his birth to join Paris Saint-Germain, initially on loan, with an agreement to make the deal permanent the following season for €180m, making it the second-highest transfer fee in history.
Manchester City did get some sort of ‘revenge’ when they signed both Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy from the team that had put six goals past them and knocked them out of Europe’s premier club competition, for a combined €100m, while Tiémoué Bakayokoto went to Chelsea for €40m.
In his first season at PSG, Mbappé would again win the French title, this time as part of a domestic treble, as he and his new teammates would also lift the Coupe de France and best his former club 3-0 in the final of the Coupe de la Ligue, a game in which he would win the Man of the Match award.
In his second season with the team that is so dominant in French football – apart from Monaco’s aforementioned title triumph, they have won every league title since the 2012-13 season (and often at a canter) – he went from strength to strength.
He scored 33 goals in 29 games to become the league’s top goal scorer and he was also declared the league’s Player of the Year, to follow in some mighty impressive footsteps. Previous recipients of this award include Zinedine Zidane, Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Karim Benzema.
In his first 100 Ligue 1 games he scored 62 goals. That is a phenomenal strike rate for a player at any time of his career, let alone during his formative years. Admittedly the French top flight is not of the same level as say the English Premier League, or Spain’s La Liga, and it will be interesting to see how he does if he ever moves to a top league from his native France – at the time of writing there is much speculation about a move to La Liga giants Real Madrid or a host of English clubs.
The international stage
On the international stage he has also been a great success. In 2015/16 he helped France to claim the Under-19 UEFA Championship in Germany, scoring five goals en route to the final, where his team routed Italy 4-0.
Unsurprisingly Mbappé, along with several of his teammates, was named in the official ‘Team of the Tournament’. It would be just two short years before he was starring on the biggest stage of them all.
He made his debut for the men’s senior side aged 18 years, three months and five days when replacing Dimitri Payet in a 3-1 victory against Luxembourg, becoming the youngest player for France since Georges Lech over half a century previously in 1963.
It was in his fifth game for Les Bleus that he would score his first goal at this level, in a 4-0 victory against Holland. He headed to the Russia World Cup with four goals in his first 15 caps before taking the tournament by storm.
Scoring-wise, he drew a blank in his first-ever game at a World Cup finals, a 2-1 victory against Australia, but five days later he scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 defeat of Peru, a game in which he was declared Man of the Match.
In the first knockout game of the tournament, a pulsating 4-3 win against Argentina, he become only the second teenager – after Pelé – to score two goals in a game at the finals. He was also brought down for the penalty that Antoine Griezmann converted to give France an early 1-0 lead and was again named Man of the Match.
He would not score another goal until the 15 July – but what a time to get it. In the 65th minute of the final against Croatia, he sent a scorching right-foot shot past his former Monaco teammate, Danijel Subasic in the Croatian goal, from around 25 yards out to put his team into a 4-1 lead before France’s goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris gifted a goal to the team playing in their first-ever World Cup Final to make the final score 4-2.
Mbappé became the second teenager to score in a World Cup Final and therefore joined a very exclusive club. The first was Pelé in Sweden in 1958.
He finished the tournament as joint second-highest goal scorer, was named in the Team of the Tournament and won the Best Young Player award, all in all not a bad month’s work, once again mirroring Pelé’s achievements.
His rise is not showing any sign of slowing – this season he has already scored a Champions League hat-trick as second-half substitute against Club Brugge in a 5-0 away win.
Off the pitch in 2018 he took part in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Didier Drogba and George Weah to promote sport in Africa.
In the last few years, world football has been dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi.
As these two all-time greats approach the end of their careers, we have at least one heir apparent to fill the void.
Mandanda – 27 caps for France
Alongside Mbappé in the 2018 World Cup Final squad was 33-year-old Steve Mandanda, the reserve goalkeeper. He made his debut for France in a 2-0 victory against Ecuador on 27 May 2008.
A decade later he headed to Russia with 27 caps to his name but sat on the bench for all but one of the games. His solitary appearance was in the game versus Denmark in the group stages, after both teams had already qualified for the knockout stages.
Still, he played a game for his country at the finals the year they won it, which is more than most professional players will be able to claim. The game finished 0-0 – the only game in the finals that didn’t see at least one goal – giving him his 11th clean sheet for the national team. He was also chosen in the squad that went to the 2010 finals in South Africa, but failed to play a single minute at the first World Cup played on the continent of his birth.
The 1.85 metres (6ft 1in) tall stopper was born in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa on 28 March 1985. His family moved to France when he was a young child and he has spent the majority of his club career playing for the port team of Marseille.
He has played over 500 games for Les Olympiens (the Olympians). On five occasions he has been named the Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year and in 2018, helped his team to the Europa League final. Marseille were beaten 3-0 by Atlético Madrid with two of the goals coming from his French international teammate Antoine Griezmann.
By choosing to play for France instead of his country of birth he has earned the nickname Frenchie within his family. He has three younger brothers who are also keepers, including Parfait, who plays for the Congolese national team and Riffi, who plays in France for Boulogne.
He obviously likes the sea air as he started his club career at Le Havre. In fact, the only time he has played at a club not on the coast was when he moved to Crystal Palace for the 2016/17 campaign – his one and only season in English football.
To win a World Cup, a team needs its superstars, but then again it also needs the squad members, the players who may not even get a game. All 23 can call themselves world champions once the Jules Rimet trophy has been lifted skywards.