The date was December 2nd 2015, at the Stade Louis II. Two minutes of play. Kylian Mbappé makes his professional debut at 16 years and 11 months after the Ligue 1 match between AS Monaco and Stade Malherbe de Caen. The man who launches Mbappé into the professional world it is called Leonardo Jardim. The Portuguese coach helped develop this prodigy over an exceptional year and a half on both the domestic and continental scene, before he eventually decides to join PSG.
Since then, Jardim has closely followed the rise of the Frenchman, who has become one of the greatest icons of his sport at the age of just 24. On Tuesday, Le Parisien informed Jardim by telephone of the appointment of Mbappé as the new captain of the France team: “I have no doubt that Didier Deschamps, whom I know well, made the right decision,” he initially responded.
Why do you think that this choice makes sense?
There are two ways to look at it when choosing your captain. Either you favour experience, relying on the years and experience of someone, or you choose the technical leader, the one who makes the most difference on the pitch. Kylian obviously fits into to the second category, but, be careful, we must not forget that he has been a professional for seven years now. He has already played two World Cup finals, many Champions’ League matches. He will also be able to bring this maturity of the very highest level.
Did he already have this leadership quality, the soul of a future captain when he started in Monaco?
No. At the time, he was the little phenomenon, the darling of the dressing room. He was focused on his performance and the pleasure of playing. It came with maturity. But his career choices still show that beyond talent he is very intelligent, very composed. He stayed a second season with us (2016-17), and that’s when he became a monster. But that’s because before, he prepared himself appropriately and didn’t skip the steps.
Doesn’t this armband risk overloading him with pressure?
I think on the contrary that this new responsibility will bring him a lot of value. A player like Kylian Mbappé needs challenges, to get out of his comfort zone, and this is a new zone for him. With this armband, he will grow a little more, he will think about certain details of the job in another way, about the best way to make compromises for the good of the squad. It’s win-win. The captain, he must place the collective above all else, because he represents all the others on the pitch. He must understand and constantly remind himself that the good health of the group will always reflect on the health of each playing element.
Does an attacker find it more difficult to think collectively, as we often hear, because of his position or his somewhat selfish obsession with the goal?
No, I don’t see it that way. Of course all strikers need goals, assists. I talked about it a lot with Kylian when he started out. I told him “you need to have statistics, it’s essential.” But I think he is quite capable of keeping up those personal goals while keeping an eye on the collective. And he will have other players next to him to take over on this aspect. A captain is never alone. Kylian will now have to find his footing. Close to the coach, with the mission of being the key messenger, but without ever forgetting that he is above all a footballer.
How much of a difference did his performance in the World Cup final against Argentina (a hat-trick) make?
In this match, he allowed in two efforts to bring his team back in the race for the cup. It’s not nothing. It goes back to what I said at the start: he has this ability to carry his teammates, thanks to his ambition and his determination.
Facing Brest on March 11th, his gesture towards an opponent earned him much criticism. Should we worry about his ability to be exemplary?
No, everyone has awkward moments sometimes. There is the pressure of the matches, the context of the club… I have 50,000 examples, even in France where, without giving names, players go through these kind of difficult episodes.
James Thorpe | GFFN