Kylian Mbappe ready to replicate Pele ahead of World Cup final clash with Lionel Messi's Argentina

France's star man could win a second World Cup title two days before his 24th birthday.

By Callum Rice-Coates Published: 16 December 2022 - 7.05pm
Pele signs a No 10 Brazil shirt for Kylian Mbappe during a meeting in 2019

At 23, Kylian Mbappe is almost a seasoned veteran.

He has been here before, on the biggest stage, with all eyes and all defenders focused on him. Four years ago, when he was still a teenager, Mbappe didn’t look out of place at a World Cup final. By now, he thrives on such occasions.

Things are slightly different this time. France are not, as they were in 2018 when Croatia unexpectedly made it all the way to the final, the overwhelming favourites against a strong Argentina side.

And Mbappe will not be the only man people are talking about in the lead-up to the game. Lionel Messi, potentially playing in his last World Cup, will be the story of the match whatever the outcome.

By the time Mbappe is 35, though, he might overshadow everyone who has gone before him. Already, he has nine World Cup goals to his name, just seven behind the tournament’s record scorer, Miroslav Klose.

And that is even after failing to net in either of France’s last two games. He was slightly subdued in the quarter-final against England and given very little space by Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Achraf Hakimi in the semi-final victory over Morocco.

Mbappe might be due a goal or two, then, and he will be determined to replicate, or perhaps better, his performance in the 4-2 win against Croatia four years ago, when his 65th-minute strike helped seal the title.

Regardless of the performance, the PSG forward will become the first player since Pele to win two World Cups at such a young age if France beat Argentina. That is esteemed company to be in and an indication of what might be to come.

That Mbappe has well over a decade left to terrorise defenders and add to his already glittering list of personal awards and trophies is a frightening prospect.

Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring France's third against Poland

It perhaps takes some of the edge off, too, given that it seems almost certain he will be back at this stage at some point in a France shirt.

His PSG team-mate Messi, meanwhile, doesn’t have time on his side and revealed earlier in the tournament that this will be his final World Cup. It's the last chance saloon for the Argentine great, but perhaps only the second opportunity of many for Mbappe.

And the Frenchman would appear to highly fancy his nation's chances on Sunday, stating in an interview earlier this year: “Argentina haven't played games of great quality to reach the World Cup.

“In South America, football isn't as advanced as Europe. That's why if you look at the last World Cups, it's always the Europeans that win.”

Those comments didn’t go down well amongst the Argentina squad, with Emiliano Martinez and Lautaro Martinez hitting back publicly. The inflammatory remarks could serve as extra motivation for France’s opponents.

But Mbappe’s bullishness, his almost cocky demeanour on the pitch, is part of what makes him so good. He believes his own hype. He plays with the kind of unshakeable self-assurance very few others can match.

That is partly why he is so popular, too, aside from the explosiveness, the athleticism, the variety of his goals. There are shades of Cristiano Ronaldo, so long the antithesis of Messi, to Mbappe.

The narrative is set perfectly for Sunday’s final: Mbappe, the youthful interloper ready to assert himself and overshadow the man many consider the greatest of all time.

And make no mistake about it, club allegiances or not, Mbappe will relish the opportunity to steal the limelight away from Messi in front of a sea of white and blue shirts.

“I always say I dream about everything. I have no limits,” Mbappe said in September. “So of course, it’s a new generation. 

“And Ronaldo, Messi — you’re gonna stop. We have to find someone else, someone new.”