Something is up with Kylian Mbappe.
That may sound extremely strange given that the 22-year-old is the joint-top scorer in Ligue 1 - but there’s something going on with the young star.
Mbappe has failed to score in his last four games in all competitions, since Mauricio Pochettino was appointed, and when he came off during the win against Angers at the weekend the forward looked far from pleased.
PSG assistant manager Jesus Perez, standing in for Pochettino after he tested positive for Covid-19, played down the situation and praised Mbappe for the work he did for the team. That’s fairly standard fodder for coaching staff when a player is struggling, but the stats don’t lie and when you earn as much as Mbappe that comes with its own form of pressure.
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So what’s the deal with Mbappe? In order to try and find out we spoke to Cyril Morin from Eurosport France, someone who watches Mbappe week in and out and is based in Paris...
The Poch factor?
“It’s not really linked with Pochettino to be honest,” Morin says of Mbappe's slump in form. “He was also struggling with [Thomas] Tuchel but managed to score and hide from everyone that he is in bad shape.
“Remember that he had to rush things in order to be fit for the Champions League quarter-finals this summer so his preparation for the new season has been very hard.
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“He also had some physical problems (ankle/thigh) but also Covid-19 that slowed his recuperation and ability to improve his game.”
The concern over Mbappe’s workload is real: a lot gets asked of him for both club and country. He is starting to pick up more niggles as Morin says, and he certainly wouldn’t have been the first player to struggle with the after-effects of Covid.
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However for fans of English football the struggles of Mbappe may strike a worrying tone. Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas both burst onto the scene as teenagers before later struggling and eventually burning out before their expected retirement age. Morin, however, isn’t too concerned.
'He's aiming to dominate for a decade'
“I’m not sure he’s a player that may burn out.
After the victory at the World Cup, he was the only one who remains calm, saying that it was only the beginning for him.
“So, he’s really aiming to dominate football for decade and work for that.
“The other question is about his choice in the coming summer: does he have to leave in order to progress?
“It looks like that he has done everything he could in L1 and France and has to know another country, another system, another team to continue his progression. Staying in PSG might be a comfort choice.”
Morin raises an excellent point. It has been rumoured for quite some time that Spanish giants Real Madrid are pushing hard to sign Mbappe and he in turn would like to join them. In fact this week Spanish TV station El Chiringuito reported that Real are considering asking Mbappe to wait out the final year of his contract so they can sign him on a free in a bid to save money.
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“The last credible report we had was AS last week, that Real will try to sign him this summer,” Morin says. “But they will try to negotiate. And seems a bit naïve when it comes to PSG’s will to sell him or Mbappe’s salary.
“But Madrid will try, no doubt about it. Mbappe has everything in his hands and will wait until the end of the season (end of Champions League) to make his choice.”
'It seems to be PSG or Real Madrid'
Interestingly Morin believes there’s a chance, albeit a small one, that Mbappe doesn’t join Madrid. Morin believes that Mbappe will make the decision that he believes is best for his footballing career, whether that be Madrid or Paris, or possibly even somewhere else.
“I won't sell my soul to the devil for this scenario but it's clearly a possibility,” says Morin.
“What's important for him is to be in the best team possible to fulfil his destiny. But, it's hard to see another destination. It seems to be PSG or Real Madrid. That's it for now.”
Image credit: Getty Images
Jean-Michel Larque, a former PSG player, told RMC last week that Mbappe has “got no place at PSG... I’m not going to drill into his skull to find out what’s going wrong, but he’s making everything complicated. Why’s he trying a rabona pass? Why’s he doing 12 step-overs but going nowhere?”
Some of this criticism in the press, combined with the intense pressure on Mbappe and his reaction at Angers, has led some to wonder whether or not it’s all getting too much for him, but Morin isn’t worried.
“On the contrary: it might help him to come back stronger. He’s a Cristiano [Ronaldo] kind of guy: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“He has this spirit of mind so he will try to shout everyone in the coming weeks. That’s a motivation for him more than a pressure.”
'He's going through his first low moment'
So perhaps the solution is that a generational talent, who is already a World Cup winner lest we forget, is just having a bad patch?
“Yes, that’s what we believe here,” Morin says.
He peaked so young! He’s going through his first low moment but there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“But the real question in France now is this one: has he progressed since 2018 and the World Cup?”
Ultimately that final question might be what is really the problem. Mbappe is having a bad season yet he has 12 goals. Ligue 1 is stronger defensively than most give it credit for but it really does feel as if it is time to move on. Madrid beckons, it really does seem a matter of when not if, and don’t bet against Mbappe taking another step at a bigger club.