ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Kylian Mbappe and Thierry Henry both attended France’s famed Clairefontaine academy before playing as left wingers at Monaco, and they both won French league titles as teenagers.
Mbappe wants to replicate another one of Henry’s accomplishments – a World Cup title for France in his first tournament.
Henry, 40, is France’s leading all-time scorer with 51 goals. The 19-year-old Mbappe is Les Bleus’ new sensation with three, matching Henry’s total from 1998 and 2006.
If Mbappe scores again – France plays Uruguay in today’s quarterfinal – he would become the first Frenchman since 1958 to score four at a World Cup since Just Fontaine’s record 13 over six games in 1958.
Henry and Mbappe both share the electric pace Fontaine had, but with a far more rounded game than their illustrious predecessor.
“I don’t really like to compare players from different generations, but they have a similar profile, with their speed and ability to beat players,” said France coach Didier Deschamps, captain of the 1998 champions. “I can only wish Kylian the same career as Thierry.”
Deschamps said that after Mbappe’s debut in a qualifier at Luxembourg in March 2017. He already was hailing Mbappe’s maturity.
“His biggest strength is his composure when he’s through on the goalkeeper,” Deschamps said. “That’s very rare at his age, and it’s why he’s so efficient.”
Mbappe showed that in a 4-3 win against Argentina last Saturday, scoring two clinical second-half goals after earning a first-half penalty kick with an astonishing run from deep inside his own half. Mbappe stole the spotlight from five-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, and he emerged as a candidate to join Neymar in the conversation as the world’s best player after Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo move on.
Mbappe has played as a wide forward and as a central striker for France and Paris Saint-Germain, joining from Monaco last year in a deal worth 180 million euros ($216 million). Playing alongside Neymar and Edinson Cavani in a star-studded attack, he helped PSG win all three domestic titles.
Like Henry, Mbappe grew up in a Paris suburb: Mbappe in Bondy, Henry in Les Ulis. Mbappe has been active in the community and he said he will donate his World Cup earnings to a charity that organizes sports for children with disabilities.
Mbappe scored six goals in his first 19 international games, Henry seven: three of them at the 1998 World Cup and two more when France won the European Championship in 2000.
Henry’s pro career was launched in 1994 by Monaco coach Arsene Wenger, who brought him to Arsenal from Italian side Juventus five years later. Henry scored at least 20 league goals in six consecutive seasons for Arsenal, and a club-record 228 in all competitions for the Gunners.
Wenger moved Henry to Monaco’s first team after Henry scored more than 40 goals the under-17 team in one year.
“Henry already had a great attitude. He was already mature and didn’t need anyone to control him,” youth coach Paul Pietri said. “He crushed everyone with his physique, his strength. He could carry the attack all by himself, he could do everything.”
A 76-year-old Corsican now in retirement after nearly 30 years on Monaco’s staff, Pietri recalled exactly when Henry’s “natural class” first stood out.
“We went to a tournament in Italy, which we always did at the start of the year,” Pietri said. “We beat Lazio 5-3, with three goals from Henry. Then we drew 3-3 against AC Milan, with three goals from Henry. I told myself, ‘This lad can play with the pros.’ Wenger took him.”
But Pietri adds a note of caution when predicting Mbappe’s future.
“What we need to see is if Mbappe lasts 15 years. You shouldn’t forget Henry is Arsenal’s leading scorer, the best they ever had,” Pietri said.
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