Kylian Mbappé: The world is yours

The away section at the Etihad erupted into cheers. The individual responsible for their joy had latched onto a long ball and slammed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. His first goal in the Champions League. At 18 years and two months, he became the second youngest French goalscorer behind Karim Benzema in the competition. Take a bow Kylian Mbappé.

On his first start in the Champions League, the young dynamo dovetailed brilliantly with strike partner Radamel Falcao and tormented the Manchester City defense with a combination of pace and fearless dribbling. It was a remarkable performance considering his tender age and has effectively put him on the world stage. The fact that Monaco lost the game 5-3 mattered not, the top goalscorers in Europe had offered their interpretation of attacking football: progressive, incisive passes and clinical finishing.

The English press were full of praise for the Ligue 1 side and most of it was aimed at Mbappé. However, those across the English channel and followers of Ligue 1 have had the player in their consciousness for a while.

Kylian Mbappé Lottin grew up in Bondy, part of the northeastern suburbs of Paris. Mbappé’s education started at AS Bondy where his father Wilfried  coached. He impressed enough to earn a place at the prestigious football academy Clairefontaine, an institution where William Gallas, Louis Saha, Blaise Matuidi, Thierry Henry etc all cut their teeth.

During his apprenticeship, the Bondy native had most of the French clubs on his case. Finally it was AS Monaco who won the race for his signature. The principality club are shrewd operators in youth football. Locally they never had a huge talent pool to pick from, instead they scout the six corners of the hexagon and recruit players from the age of 14 who have already received the fundamental education.

The fact that Monaco gives these youth a chance to challenge for a first team place is also a strong selling point. The likes of Lilian Thuram, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Anthony Martial have all benefited from this approach.

Mbappé debuted for the seniors against Caen on 2 December, 1998. At 16 years and 347 days he broke Thierry Henry’s record (17 and 14 days) as the youngest “monégasque” to feature in the league. Two months later the record of youngest goalscorer was also taken from Henry (17 years and eight months) by the same culprit ( 17 years two months) against Troyes.

The sale of Anthony Martial to Manchester United had opened a door for Mbappé which he has gone through running, especially this season. 12 goals in all competitions so far is a decent return, but it’s  the options that he offers to his coach Leonardo Jardim. He can play on the wings, centrally or partner with another striker. His versatility and style has earned him the tag of “new Thierry Henry” though that may be premature considering his predecessors illustrious career.

The young man needs to develop further before talks of going abroad to play at a Real Madrid are evoked. He hasn’t really experienced a major setback in his career yet e.g dip in form, long-term injury or abrupt change of coach and tactics. These are all issues Thierry Henry has encountered and surpassed. Then there is the small matter of Henry playing for the national team and winning the World Cup and Euros.

Though, selection for the senior national team feels like a when rather than an if, looking at the starring role he played at last years U19 Euro triumph with five goals. His father Wilfried who also works as his agent has proven that he can also make sensible decisions for his son by choosing Monaco instead of Real Madrid, even though the Spanish giants and in particular, club ambassador at the time Zinedine Zidane, pulled all the tricks to recruit him.

Whatever direction the Mbappé story takes, like Tony Montana, he is at a point where the world is his, even Nike have endorsed him. It’s now up to the lad to keep that success permanent.

UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw reaction

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©Getty Images for UEFA

The annual last 16 draw of the UEFA Champions league took place this Monday in Nyon, Switzerland. As can be expected, some exciting ties were drawn out of the bowl in what is likely to be another entertaining round of fixtures.

UEFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino conducted his second draw in three days after Saturday’s Euro 2016 draw, but didn’t seem fatigued as he enthusiastically welcomed and briefed the delegates who were representing the 16 participants.

There was praise for Christiano Ronaldo who top scored in the group stage with 11 goals and in the process, became the competitions all-time goalscorer with 88. A hell of an achievement.

Infantino also welcomed former Internazionale Milano Captian, Javier Zanetti to the stage. The 2010 Champions League winner is this season’s ambassador for the final, which will be held in the San Siro, a stadium that Zanetti knows well.

UEFA Competitions Director Giorgio Marchetti’s arrival, as has in previous years, heralded the beginning of the draw. Here are the matches:

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Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The one that immediately sticks out is Arsenal vs. Barcelona. The English team were beaten by the current holders in the 2006 final. They were also knocked out by the Spanish side in the 2009/10 quarter finals and the 2010/11 round of 16.

The match heralds reunions for a few players: Alexis Sanchez  left Barcelona for Arsenal last year. Hector Bellerin a product of La Masia, has the opportunity to play on a pitch he dreamed of walking on when he was younger and former Gunners Captain, Thomas Vermaelen, might face his old side if either Javier Mascherano or Gerard Pique are unavailable.

Paris Saint-Germain face Chelsea for the third consecutive season in the knockout rounds with both teams eliminating each other in the two previous years. PSG lead the French league by 17 points while Chelsea are currently 16th domestically.

AS Roma were a bit disappointing in the group stages. Unable to beat Bate Borisov at home in their last group match, they qualified because of Bayer Leverkusen’s inability  to beat a weakened Barcelona. Rudi Garcia’s team must improve if they want to shock 10-time champions Real Madrid.

FC Bayern Munich are always favorites in this competition. But their credentials will be tested by a Juventus side that reached the final last year. Kingsley Coman featured sporadically for Juve, but has flourished this season in the colors of Bayern. Expect him to have a point to prove.

It is the battle of the striped shirts when PSV Eindhoven meet Atletico de Madrid. They met before in the 2008/9 group stages, Atletico won both games. But the Dutch club will feel confident having qualified at the expense of Manchester United.

Two knockout round debutants in Vfl Wolfsburg and KAA Ghent will aim to make history by reaching the quarterfinals for the first time. Wolfsburg may look stronger on paper, but the gutsy Belgians beat Champions League regulars Olympique Lyonnais and CF Valencia to get to this stage.

SL Benfica will meet a familiar foe in the form of Football Club Zenit’s coach, Andre Villas-Boas who coached FC Porto. The Portuguese flavor continues with Zenit playmaker Danny, who’ll want to make an impression when he returns home.

Last but not least we have Manchester City who are relived not to be facing Barcelona again and will view FC Dynamo Kiev as manageable opposition. Kiev knocked City out of the Europa League in 2010/11, a similar victory would be a big triumph.

The dice has rolled and the stage is set. Initial prognostics will change as form fluctuates and fortunes turn. This is when the games will be played:

First legs:
16 February: Paris v Chelsea, Benfica v Zenit
17 February: Gent v Wolfsburg, Roma v Real Madrid
23 February: Arsenal v Barcelona, Juventus v Bayern
24 February: PSV v Atlético, Dynamo Kyiv v Manchester City

Second legs:
8 March: Wolfsburg v Gent, Real Madrid v Roma
9 March: Chelsea v Paris, Zenit v Benfica
15 March: Atlético v PSV, Manchester City v Dynamo Kyiv
16 March: Barcelona v Arsenal, Bayern v Juventus