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."