Mbappe's brain, not pace, his best asset

France forward Kylian Mbappe in training ahead of today's World Cup semi-final clash against Belgium. Former Les Bleus great Thierry Henry has tipped Mbappe to go far in his career and highlighted his footballing brain, which sets him apart from othe
France forward Kylian Mbappe in training ahead of today's World Cup semi-final clash against Belgium. Former Les Bleus great Thierry Henry has tipped Mbappe to go far in his career and highlighted his footballing brain, which sets him apart from other players.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW • As Didier Deschamps plots another World Cup title tilt with France, Kylian Mbappe, who was not even born when his coach lifted the trophy in 1998, has become an indispensable figure for Les Bleus.

It was only 21/2 years ago that the 19-year-old made his professional debut, but the rise of Mbappe has been meteoric.

After winning successive French league crowns with Monaco and then Paris Saint-Germain, he announced himself on the global stage by knocking Lionel Messi's Argentina out of the last 16 with his brace in the 4-3 win.

Mbappe's breathtaking acceleration and steely composure were used to devastating effect as he became the first teenager since Brazil legend Pele 60 years ago to score at least twice in a World Cup knockout match.

"I gave Kylian a new nickname, it's 37, because he reached a peak of 37kmh against Argentina," said France team-mate Florian Thauvin.

To put his searing speed into context, triple Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt's career peak was clocked at 44.72kmh during his world-record run at the 2009 world championships.

World Cup winner and France great Thierry Henry, who followed a similar trajectory to the top as Mbappe, cited the latter's intelligence as the driving force behind his success.

"When I watch him dribble, he's thinking," Henry, who is now Belgium's assistant coach, said in an interview with French TV channel Canal+.

"There's something that gets me going and saddens me at times. We often speak of a player and say, 'He's fast, he's tough, he jumps high', but we never speak about a player's brain.

"He thinks when he plays, and that for me is the most important thing in a player, he uses his brain. It's the sign of a guy who can go very far."

While many pundits insist Mbappe is best used in a classic centre-forward role, Deschamps is likely to play him on the right of the attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation today in which the teenager can use his pace best.

"What he has done so far is fantastic. But he can continue improving a lot," said the France coach.

"Kylian is very intelligent, but he is still learning and, regardless of his talent at this stage of his career, he must continue to learn."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'Mbappe's brain, not pace, his best asset'. Print Edition | Subscribe