You know you’ve done something right if you’re being mentioned in the same breath as Pele. Then again, Kylian Mbappe has gotten used to lofty comparisons over the last two years – because his explosive talent has earned them.
No one has lit up a World Cup like this at this young an age since the great Brazilian. It was fitting that, just like Pele in 1958, Mbappe’s tournament ended with the Jules Rimet held aloft in his hands following a goal in the final.
The Frenchman, who is being linked with Real Madrid, leaves a trail of established stars in his wake to top our World Cup forward rankings – here’s a look at who else made our top five.
1. Kylian Mbappe, France
What a stunning two years it has been for the 19-year-old from Paris. An instant rise to stardom while leading Monaco to a surprise Champions League semi-final, a big-money move to France’s most powerful club, and now a starring role in a World Cup triumph.
Mbappe joined elite company after becoming the only teenager other than Pele to score in a World Cup final. By then, he was already the tournament’s brightest star. The best young player honour was well-deserved.
2. Edinson Cavani, Uruguay
Cavani has already been thought of as one of the world’s best strikers, but he established himself among the elite during this World Cup. He outplayed fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez, undoubtedly the bigger star.
Who knows how different this tournament would have been had Cavani not injured himself in the very game he shone brightest, after scoring twice in Uruguay’s Round-of-16 win over Portugal. France would certainly have had a more difficult quarter-final.
3. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
Only five players have scored in the final of both the World Cup and Champions League. It’s Mandzukic’s misfortune that for him, both goals have come in losing efforts. Even more so that Mandzukic also scored an own goal in Croatia’s loss to France.
But Mandzukic has long since earned his reputation as one of the world’s most bruising centre-forwards, and he was at his best during this tournament, including scoring a memorable extra-time winner against England in the semi-final.
4. Antoine Griezmann, France
It was a strange tournament for Griezmann. There was never a sense that a player who’s always been considered among the select group right below Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi was truly at his sparkling best during the World Cup.
But although his four goals came through three penalties and one goalkeeping error, his presence as France’s chief creative force in attack was vital to Les Bleus’ ultimate triumph. His contribution was duly recognised as he was named the third-best player at the tournament behind Luka Modric and Eden Hazard.
5. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Lukaku’s tournament ended in disappointment after a quiet display in Belgium’s semi-final loss to France was followed by a similarly ineffective performance in the third-place game against England, when the World Cup Golden Boot was there for the taking. Before that, however, the Manchester United striker showed just how much he’s grown as a player.
He’s always had the work ethic of a player determined to reach the very top, but what was truly impressive about Lukaku in Russia was his emergence as a leader. Rallying the troops, coaxing every ounce of effort out of his teammates – this was a side of Lukaku nobody had seen. And he also scored four goals.
Mesut Ozil has expressed thoughts on his controversial photograph with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that raised questions about his loyalty to Germany’s national squad ahead of World Cup 2018, and clarified that he has no regrets.
The Arsenal star wrote and insisted in a statement on Twitter that he was loyal to both his Turkish and German origins and he did not intend to make a political statement.
“Like many people, my ancestry traces back to more than one country. Whilst I grew up in Germany, my family background has its roots firmly based in Turkey,” he said.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish.”
The talented midfielder revealed he first came face to face with Erdogan in 2010 after the president and German chancellor Angela Merkel watched a Germany-Turkey match in each other’s company.
“Since then, our paths have crossed a lot of times around the globe,” he said.
The past couple of weeks have given me time to reflect, and time to think over the events of the last few months. Consequently, I want to share my thoughts and feelings about what has happened. pic.twitter.com/WpWrlHxx74
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) July 22, 2018
“I’m aware that the picture of us caused a huge response in the German media, and whilst some people may accuse me of lying or being deceitful, the picture we took had no political intentions.”
Ozil had featured in the picture alongside teammate Ilkay Gundogan, and while the timing of it was shortly before Erdogan won re-election in a poll that handed him sweeping new powers – the 29-year-old said it had nothing to do with politics or elections, it was instead about him respecting the highest office of his family’s country.
“My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies,” Ozil said.
“I get that this may be hard to understand, as in most cultures the political leader cannot be thought of as being separate from the person. But in this case it is different. Whatever the outcome would’ve been in this previous election, or the election before that, I would have still taken the picture.”
Ozil himself had come under criticism after Germany’s shock early exit at the World Cup after a 2-0 loss to South Korea while there was massive outrage over the picture as well.
Team boss Oliver Bierhoff even went to the extent of suggesting that Ozil should have been dropped after his failure to explain himself over the Erdogan picture.
Though Bierhoff did later withdraw from his statement, the furore over the picture didn’t seem to stop on social media.
II / III pic.twitter.com/Jwqv76jkmd
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) July 22, 2018
Mbappe was the star of France’s World Cup triumph this summer, winning the tournament’s best young player award after scoring four goals, including one in the final – becoming only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final, after Pele in 1958.
It was in Europe’s premier club competition that Mbappe first served notice of his talent, becoming the first player ever to score in his first four knockout games in the Champions League as he helped Monaco stun Manchester City and then knock out traditional European powerhouses Borussia Dortmund.
They ultimately fell to Juventus – though Mbappe became the youngest Champions League semi-final scorer during the tie against the Italians.
Their performances for Monaco earned both Bakayoko and Mbappe moves away, with Mbappe going to PSG in a transfer that has now smashed the record fee for a teenager.
The Chelsea man, who missed out on selection for France’s squad for the summer, says his former colleague’s rise to stardom should not have come as a surprise to anyone.
“I’m not surprised [at his success], he’s very young but he’s very mature,” Bakayoko told Goal.
“He’s a very intelligent player and I think with his characteristics he’s the best player in the world,” Bakayoko said.
“Don’t forget he’s very young and it’s not easy to play against the older players and to be so quick on the pitch.”
Mbappe won a personal duel with Barcelona talisman Messi during the World Cup, scoring two goals and setting up another by winning a penalty as France beat Argentina 4-3 in a Round of 16 clash.
That game, where he ran Argentina’s defence ragged and tore them apart with his pace and trickery while Messi was kept quiet, fed the narrative that the young Frenchman was truly establishing himself among the world’s elite.