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Kylian Mbappe, the secrets to the making of a young superstar
by Paul Kennedy, April 20th, 2017 9:46PM
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TAGS:  france

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We've been watching a superstar grow up before our eyes the last couple of months as 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe has led Monaco to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.



For sure, Mbappe isn't the only star on a Monaco team loaded with young talent: fellow Frenchmen Thomas Lemar, 21, and Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy, both 22; plus Portuguese Bernardo Silva, 22.

But Mbappe is special. When he scored in Wednesday's 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund that completed a 6-3 aggregate victory, he became the first player to score in the first four games he played in the knockout phase of the Champions League. That follows a string of nine straight games earlier this winter with at least one goal for Monaco in all competitions.

Mbappe oozes with devastating pace, as well as skill and vision, but what stands out is how cool he is in all situations.

His goal on Wednesday came after Dortmund keeper Roman Buerki failed to hold on to Mendy's powerful shot and Mbappe slotted it home. How many times in similar situations have you seen the shooter miss the target?

Dortmund also gifted Monaco its third goal in the first leg. Polish defender Lukasz Piszczek's pass was played straight to Mbappe, who was off to the races. Again, he could have just as easily messed things up, but he fired a curling shot inside the post that left Buerki with no chance.

Again, we're talking about an 18-year-old player.

Probably the most impressive thing I've seen Mbappe do is talk about the explosion that rocked the Dortmund bus and forced the first leg to be postponed by 24 hours. Here's the video of Mbappe after the first leg. You don't have to understand French to be impressed by how Mbappe comports himself.

Mbappe is a child prodigy, to be sure. At 13, Nike gave him an endorsement contract. At 14, Real Madrid tried to sign him. He decided, correctly, he'd be best served if he grew up in France. And he made the wise decision to join tiny Monaco, not his hometown team, Paris St. Germain.

You might imagine Mbappe living in a villa in the hills above Monaco with a swimming pool and view of the Mediterranean, but he still resides in the Monaco dormitories where he's lived for the last four years. His one perk: he gets cable in his studio so he can watch all the soccer channels.

Mbappe has no fancy car because he doesn't yet have a driver's license. His mother, who spends part of each month in an apartment nearby, or a team attendant drives him to practice every morning.

You hear all kinds of stories about young French stars getting into trouble, but not Mbappe. Bling-bling, crazy social media posts and big entourages? That's not something you'd associate with Mbappe.

The one thing you hear time and again about Mbappe is the positive influence of his parents: Cameroonian father Wilfried, a teacher and Kylian's first coach at the age of 6 in their hometown of Bondy, on the soccer side and Algerian-French mother Fayza Lamari, a former French Division I handball player, with off-the-field issues.

Mbappe also benefits greatly from the experience of 29-year-old Jires Kembo-Ekoko, who played six seasons at Rennes and has played the last four seasons in the UAE. Kembo-Ekoko is Mbappe's adopted brother, the son of a former Zaire World Cup 1974 player who was taken under the wing of Wilfried Mbappe when he moved to France. Kembo-Ekoko was Mbappe's idol growing up and is another person whose advice Mbappe relies on.

Reda Hammache, who is in charge of recruiting at French club Lens and held a similar position at Monaco when Mbappe signed in 2013, can look at Mbappe's development from afar and point to the keys to his success.

"His family has masterfully managed his carer," Hammache recently told France Football. "That's a true advantage."


36 comments
  1. stewart hayes
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 10:44 a.m.
    His skill at such a young age does not surprise me at all. I think there are many with great skill at his age. I know because I have seen players at 11 who could beat adults 3x's their age in indoor soccer where the physical advantage was a non factor. The difference between this man and his peers is that he is a world class athlete to boot. Without a doubt all that is said in the article about the family etc... is important as well but there are thousand with equal support that will never reach this level.
  1. John Lander
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 11:14 a.m.
    Stewart; Couldn't agree more. You can teach all the skills and technique you want, but if that player lacks world class athleticism, then they will never be a world class player. Tell that to Americans. We spend millions of dollars teaching nerdy, slow, un-coordinated, kids soccer skills. While all the 3,4, 5 start athletes go learn football, basketball, baseball, hockey skills.
  1. J Kumar
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 12:46 p.m.
    John, I dont agree with the 2nd 1/2 of your comment. The problem is our system is designed to profit and push the pay to play players that are capable of paying thr big $$$ to the big time coaches whose reccommendations to the higher levels are taken seriously. We have top athletes with great skill but they can't afford those coaches or even afford to drive to where those coaches are. Unlike basketball and football our soccer leaders, Mls Ussf, make no attempt to include the barrios and Ghettos in this multimillion dollar business that is pay to play soccer.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 11:24 a.m.
    I said this before and I will say it again for the reading impaired. US can produce 5000 Mbappes but our top physical athletes go into basketball, football, baseball and hockey and stay there. Go to any HS game other than soccer and you will see players that are bigger, faster and stronger than Mbappe.. these players need to be grabbed at the grass roots level from the same areas that produces the NBAers and NFLers. So far most of our players come from some far remote outpost totally ignoring talents that can be developed from within the cities. Even for academies like NYRB the Academy is nowhere accessible for city players.. Soccer removes 60% of the potential physical young players from the equation in the US yet the professional games are held in the major cities. So every couple month we will continue to talk about Mbappes who comes from screwed up neighborhoods other than the US to be superstars.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 11:40 a.m.
    There is plenty that can be improved with our development system but I've never heard anyone say there isn't a big enough focus on "bigger, faster, stronger".
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 11:47 a.m.
    Just like you, One can talk the talk but cannot walk the walk.. Bottom line..talk is cheap and we are not doing it.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 12:58 p.m.
    Yeah we all know no one is "bigger, faster and stronger" than Messi... Ironically, your attitude is what has led to the results you're complaining about.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 12:58 p.m.
    Also, Mbappe is 5'10" 160 lbs. Not tiny but hardly a huge man.
  1. John Lander
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 2:24 p.m.
    Fire Paul Gardner, No one said bigger. As a matter of fact that is a BIG problem. The DA programs are loaded with big muscular player who are not athletic. I said athletic not BIG. Messi is a world class athletic. His speed, quick feet, balance, flexibility are all world class. That my friend is athleticism.
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 12:44 p.m.
    QTD, your expert argument on this player and the US players has no merit whatsoever. Passion is really what dictates the road for an athlete, money is secondary and comes with success. How many of the gifted do eventually turn pro in the U.S. market? So your 5K argument has no merit and is fantasy.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 1:14 p.m.
    Again talk is cheap-- I really wish this site was more like twitter so I can visually document this. Now if you are not from the city I expect your type if answer. Anyway do you know why US and Latin America does not produce good boxers and why poor Eastern European countries do ? Do you know why fewer people in cities play soccer less than they play other sports ? Do you know why basketball courts in West 4th is pack with b-ballers but yet 2 soccer field near West 26th are always empty in addition to soccer fields in other NYC locations?-- I will wait for your incorrect answer before correcting you..
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 1:46 p.m.
    No sports is about passion when a child first starts. Most do it because there parents pushes them or their friends are doing it. If you noticed I explicitly used the word grass roots because that is where you will begin to influence the young ones so a 10 year old kid at 6ft is not discourage because he is like a bully on the field and decides to play football, ice hockey or basketball instead. I ask you to simply even in the suburbs go to a tryout for U10 to U12 soccer, Football, basketball or hockey and look at the traits of kids. The non-soccer kids has more physical attributes, speed and agility than Mbappe but they were never introduce to soccer or simply felt out of place. We Americans fail to use our best resources because people like you are blind. Barcelona and other big clubs are opening academies in Africa, Eastern Europe, South America etc because they can get and influence players at the grass roots. Even NBA which has a lot of talent cannot produce super centers so they open schools in Countries in Africa and other crazy locations. Another thing I have personally seen are coaches eliminating bigger kids because the smaller kids can dribble pass them.. this tells me the coach is really not up to speed on how differently a bigger kid develops his footwork and using his body skills. We are too short sighted when it comes to developing soccer, we will always produce a good team but we will never be great until we start a grass roots approach for kids that fits the definition of an Ibra, Messi or Neymar.. so until then I will have a field day on this website provided US men's fails again to win the WC U20 or U17..
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 3:50 p.m.
    10 year olds playing american football have more agility than Mbappe? That's a good one.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 3:38 p.m.
    Fire, yes 10-12 year olds top basketball and football players in an obstacle course-- very easily-- that is drills they do every day and they are bigger than Mbappes
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 2:14 p.m.
    Bigger doesn't mean better in soccer. Something that a football convert like yourself needs to learn. Maybe the USMNT should just recruit a bunch of offensive linemen? Those dudes are huge!
  1. Jay Wall
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 1:21 p.m.
    Cruff recalls at age 15 he could only kick a ball 15 meters with his left foot, 20 meters with his right. Ajax kept him (like he kept Pep at Barcelona) because he had vision and technique, things you don't measure with a measuring tape. > Bigger, faster, stronger is a 2 edged trap. For early physical maturing players they are so successful they often stop learning, fail to become complete players and lose out to later developers who replace them. For less physical players they either move on to activities where they can be more successful or they learn the subtle aspects of the game to survive until they reach physical maturity. > Either way most players lose because they fail to reach their full potential; and soccer in the United States loses because we have an active player pool of quality canidates that is a fraction of what it could and should be. > One possible solution would be to define a players peer group on a physical maturity basis prior to age 16. Do what youth football does and define the peer group by weight and size. Then practices and training games would be among peers with approximately equal physcial size. And because this can change the number of players in each peer group instead of games between a club's teams, games with neighboring clubs might be required, just like in youth football. > Ever wonder what decisions clubs would make if they knew who the bigger, faster, stronger players would be at age 2 (two) or at any age thereafter. There are 6 methods to predict eventual physical maturity. Two are as our ancestors did but come close. Three are based on detailed data on a player and their family and are closer. One is scientific with an accuracy of over 95% with projected growth curves and an estimate of when skeletal maturity will be achieved. > And yes we miss over half of the players with the potential to play at a higher level because unlike Germany and many other nations we don't have scouts watching youth and high school games in major cities as well as in rural America. > Somewhere at this very minute are players with the potential to become elite players, if we identify them and mentor them to become the best they can become.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 1:54 p.m.
    Jay, now we are getting somewhere.. that will actually work and has for years with football from their pop warner programs. A size structure would definitely keep a few large kids in soccer and maybe enough to generate hundreds of Mbappes which is exactly what we do for basketball, football and even baseball youth camps.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 1:29 p.m.
    QTD, perhaps the better view of players like Mbappes is that they are outliers, even among professional athletes, and the result of a perfect storm of circumstances: individual mentality, supportive family, exceptional training opportunities from birth, and good genes. By definition, a common systematic approach to athletic development no matter how good does not cause outliers by definition.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 2:40 p.m.
    Bob, sorry I don't buy too much into that upbringing limitations. If that was the case Messi, Neymar, Pele and Maradonna and every player from Algeria to South Africa would not be playing. All I am saying is we need to get and maintain a grass root program that maintains our players with the best physical traits without pushing them out the door before they can even learn the sport-- these asshole coaches and clubs loves trophies and pay to play nonsense and that in itself needs to change.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 3:52 p.m.
    Incoherent and inconsistent laments. The only consistency in anything you say if that you complain about how horrible and incompetent everyone is.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 5:05 p.m.
    QTD I agree that we need to improve grass roots soccer, but only about 3% of those players will go on to play college soccer (less than 1 per U-Little team), fewer still professional soccer, and fewer still will be international quality players, much less international stars.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 5:09 p.m.
    Bob, so I know for future reference, when say "U-little" what age groups are thinking of?
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 5:20 p.m.
    U12 and younger--U6 to U12. I started using the term after many people didn't know what I meant by Zone 1.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 2:15 p.m.
    Got it. Thanks.
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 7:51 p.m.
    QTD, you're truly off base. U actually think that CR-7 and Messi are two of many world class players? As goal scorers and technically gifted there is not one player that comes close to their efficacy and contributions. It's not the best physical traits amigo, it's total dedication, passion, and hard work, just like all great athletes in every sport who have the drive to succeed. Your "physicality" argument has no merit...soccer IQ and not brawn wins. Our big 4 sports demand a lot of brawn, but the stars of the game have the IQ which makes them immediately visible and winners. Development of soccer players between 12-18 years of age has been a disaster; so talking about grass roots is meaningless unless the coaching system especially in high schools is reinvented...it's like "Waiting For Godot."
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 5:34 p.m.
    The problem is typically that people brought up on watching football, basketball, and baseball have a narrow view of athleticism. They tend to see the importance of power and the advantages of size. They ignore agility. Except for GK and CB, a large size is not an advantage in soccer. In fact for field players a lower center of gravity and quick feet is a disadvantage, so having short legs is an advantage, all other things being equal. Because soccer players don't have immense upper body strength, many people don't realize the power aspects of soccer athleticism. Messi is extremely quick and agile with very fast feet. CR-7 is an extremely gifted athlete too.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 5:36 p.m.
    Garbled that in editing. Should say advantage rather than disadvantage. Apologies.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 2:18 p.m.
    Plus while someone like Messi might not be fast in a footrace sense, he is incredibly fast with the ball at his feet. That's the kind of "speed" that matters.
  1. John Lander
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 3:13 p.m.
    Total disagree with Bob Ashpole statement about people brought up watching football and basketball. Understanding what you are seeing and being able evaluate players athletic abilities is a skill that good coaches and scout have. Regardless of what sport it is. Soccer people try to make it seem that soccer is so different and complicated. Yet the tell kids to play simple. Actually think we are trying to say some of the same things about the players and athleticism.
  1. J Kumar
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 9:17 p.m.
    John, yes. The simplest sport in the world is seen as something from mars here in Usa because thats what makes money. Confuse parents with nonsense and the payout is big.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: April 24, 2017 at 5:40 a.m.
    John, saying that good coaches and scouts understand athleticism doesn't refute what I said about the many people who don't understand.
  1. Jay Wall
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 8:41 p.m.
    There are skills to be mastered and four types of player maturity to be nutured and developed. > 1 Physical maturity including specialized training and conditioning to teach players to play in their newly acquired adult bodies > 2 Social maturity to develop players who can, will and do work together well in a team environment > 3 Emotional maturity so players learn to accept those things they can not change, changs things they can change and keep playing and developing despite both critical and positive feedback, and > 4 Intellectual maturity so we empower players to become students of the game, to try new things, to learn, to find out what doesn't work and to find what does work which is pretty much what stars of the past learned playing street soccer. >> We also need to engage in guided discovery to encourage and empower players to learn the game, to become soccer savvy and capable of reading the game in advance steps before the actual play happens. The spoon fed robots of today may win games as children for their coaches and parents but will seldom become savvy, intelligent and productive players as adults. > Instead of trophies for winning, if we are going to have awards, they should be for excellence in mastering all aspects of playing the game, not wins.
  1. John Lander
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 3:21 p.m.
    To solve the soccer problems in the US, soccer needs to be more like baseball, football and basketball. We have proven that we have a system in the US that can develop world class football, basketball, baseball, hockey, volleyball, track and golf players. Yet we look to Europeans and an European base system to try and develop soccer players. The problem with US soccer is not on the field or training grounds. Yes there are bad coaches. But there are good ones too and enough of them. The problem is off the field and the system. US soccer problem needs a US solution and if we look to other successful sport in the US we can find the solution and answers there.
  1. J Kumar
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 9:21 p.m.
    The parents of the non athletic kids will always push for pick skill first which in most of their cases falls short as well. A highly skilled player will mostly always be in very good shape at the very least. And probably either strong, fast, high endurance, fast first step, fast thinker, etc. Simply because they are the ones that cant get enough of playing soccer everyday and competing. That is the common trait amongst the best. Everything else they try to sell you is nonsense. No training in the world from ages 6-14 will ever make your kid a pro on its own. Ever.
  1. J Kumar
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 9:22 p.m.
    But playing every day as much as you can gives you a chance. Think about that.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: April 24, 2017 at 1:24 p.m.
    In the great debate between which is more important for a world class soccer star, athleticism or soccer IQ, the correct answer is "yes".

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