Teenage prodigy Kylian Mbappe leading Monaco to new heights
Weeks and months go by and Kylian Mbappe keeps breaking record after record. If you haven't heard yet of the 18-year-old French prodigy, you must have just woken up from a long hibernation. On Wednesday, in Dortmund, the Paris-born striker wrote another incredible entry in his already fantastic 2017 diary.
His two goals, the first one from an offside position but a sensational second one considering his position, his age and at such a late stage in the game, made him the youngest ever player to score a brace in the knockout stages in the history of the Champions League! He had netted one in each leg already against Manchester City in the round of 16, causing all sorts of trouble to City's defence. This new record comes after becoming the youngest ever player to start for Monaco and to score for them in the French top flight, overtaking Thierry Henry in the history book. Other milestones have fallen too, including with the French national team where he made his debut last month against Luxembourg and Spain.
There is nothing surprising though about the teenager's rise. When half of Europe wants you at 11 years old, you must be a special talent. The Monaco academy developed that talent and then Leonardo Jardim, the first team manager, made him bloom and shine even brighter.
Now, the whole of Europe is falling in love with his game and his success. His name is on everyone's lips: managers, sporting directors, agents, fans, teammates and opponents. He has scored 14 goals in his last 12 appearances, only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski has done better over the same period in all of Europe! Apart from his incredible talent, it is his calm, his maturity and how at home he is everywhere that is the most striking. The way he took his second goal on Wednesday is a summary of all of that. Of course, he is far from the finished article as well, which is scary, but everything just seems so easy for him at the top level already.
And every time he produces this kind of performance, his value goes up and up, higher and higher. What is he worth today? 80 million euros? 100? 150? 200? It is hard to tell because we have never seen a teenager doing these kind of things at that age. Kylian Mbappe is much better at 18 than Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo were. It doesn't mean he will have the same career but it is a hell of a great start.
The plan for Monaco is to keep him for at least another two seasons but it will depend of what kind of offers they receive. And there will be offers. And there will be a point where Monaco can't say no anymore. This time will come but for now, he is the Prince of Monaco and he is taking them to new heights.
Apart from Mbappe, there are two other great things with this Monaco team this season. The first one is that they will never bore you. Everything they do is entertaining, spectacular even. There is always something happening, offensively, defensively, whether they lose or win. Away at Nice, Marseille, Tottenham (at Wembley), Manchester City or Dortmund. At home against Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon, Marseille, City or Spurs again: those have been some of the best matches of the season.
The entertainment was great again on Wednesday, in Dortmund, in front of the incredible Yellow Wall. Monaco were not even at their best and understandably due to the absence of full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy, both of whom are normally so instrumental in the attacking play of the team, and Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield. However, they went 2-0 up and later 3-1 up and take a 3-2 advantage with them back home for the return leg in Monaco. Their pace going forward with Mbappe, Radamel Falcao, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva was simply breathtaking once again.
In many ways, this game was similar to the one away at Manchester City in the first leg of the last 16. However, instead of squandering their lead like they did in England (from 3-2 up to 5-3 down), Monaco dealt much better with the situation. The players and the manager learned from the mistakes they made at the Etihad and didn't make the same mistakes this time around.
Jardim made a much earlier change tactically with the introduction of Nabil Dirar when his team was under pressure. The team stayed in the game with Falcao dropping a bit deeper and leaving Mbappe up front on his own and that's how the third goal came. Monaco dug deep when Dortmund put them on the back foot after the break and they never crumbled. Instead, they stayed solid, waited for another chance and when it came, they took it, unlike what happened last month in Manchester.
Like Kylian Mbappe, this Monaco side is learning and improving fast. Watch the space!
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.