Madrid, Mbappe and a mission of a lifetime

Kylian Mbappe sits on his bed with posters of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo all around him
[Offside Sports Photography]

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Buried deep in Monaco’s archive is black-and-white footage of a teenage Kylian Mbappe, sitting in front of a board as a teacher takes a lesson.

Like much of the early footage of Mbappe, the first thing that catches the eye is his sense of mischief, humour and fun.

In another clip, he jumps on a trampoline, spelling out Monaco letter-by-letter at the top of each bounce, in the style of an American cheerleader.

But with the levity was an underlying seriousness.

Mbappe had an understanding, even as a teenager, of a wider, bigger plan; a programme of parental planning and forethought now widely known as 'Project Mbappe'.

In the classroom footage, Mbappe is learning languages, most significantly Spanish.

"Maybe in the future it can help me," he says. "Even when it comes to interviews, to express myself in French or other languages if it's necessary."

This summer, that schoolboy Spanish is set to come in useful.

Having run down his contract at Paris St-Germain, the 25-year-old is poised to be confirmed as Real Madrid's newest galactico.

It is the transfer Mbappe has dreamed of ever since he pinned posters of Madrid hero Cristiano Ronaldo on his bedroom wall.

It is the transfer that could ultimately deliver him the game's biggest trophies.

And it is the transfer that, according to an iconic compatriot, could ultimately make him the most decorated footballer of all time.

"He still has 10 years at the top level and that is quite frightening when you look at what he has already achieved," says Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager who is now Fifa's chief of global football development.

"This stage of his career, is where you know your job, you are at the prime, the peak of your physical potential.

"He has no limitations.

"He can be at 90% and will still be the best. But how much does he want to push himself? Does he have a clear image of where he wants to go?"

Mbappe and, perhaps more pertinently, his entire family, have always had a definitive direction of travel, zeroing in on the top of the global game.

"Kylian was just school and football," says childhood friend Rayan Viyanga in a new BBC Sport documentary called Mbappe. "School, football, home."

Home for Mbappe was the outskirts of Paris. He was born in a banlieue (suburb) called Bondy in 1998, months after France lifted the World Cup for the first time.

The victorious class of '98 featured a clutch of players from the outskirts of Paris - Lilian Thuram and Thierry Henry for example – and it remains a hotbed of talent. Thirty players at the 2022 men's World Cup in Qatar were born in the vicinity of France's capital.

Bondy was the first place he returned to after lifting the World Cup in 2018.

"It's the city and place where I grew up, I'm very proud to come back here," he says, beaming, in footage from the time.

Bondy was also the proving ground where a prodigy was created.

The Mbappe family flat overlooked the AS Bondy football pitches. His father Wilfried was a player turned coach.

As a result, Mbappe – whose mother Fayza Lamari is a former professional handball player – was to be found regularly kicking about with boys twice his size. The mismatches were all part of the plan.

"Kylian was already one step ahead of many other players at AS Bondy," Viyanga says. "He was advanced for his age group and wanted to play with the best.

"That was a strict rule of his, to play with the best. He never set himself any limits. So he might come up against someone two metres tall. His dad, who was the coach, always put him up against the best defenders in matches."

Kylian Mbappe in an archive picture with his father
Mbappe's father Wilfried, right, played football at a regional level in Cameroon [Liberation]

Playing against Bondy's best was no mean feat given the tally of professional footballers among their alumni - which includes Arsenal defender William Saliba - is in double figures.

Project Mbappe didn't stop there.

While a teenage Mbappe pinned up pictures of Ronaldo and watched old footage of Zinedine Zidane, another Real Madrid superstar, there was a third role model far closer to home - Jires Kembo Ekoko, his adopted brother.

Ekoko was taken in by Mbappe's parents when he was nine and was selected for the French Federation's national academy at Clairefontaine before playing professionally for Rennes in Ligue 1.

Ekoko was more than a decade older than Mbappe but had a big impact.

At the age of six, Mbappe had learned the French national anthem, explaining to his teacher that "one day, I'll play in the World Cup for France".

It wasn't only Wilfried and Fayza who believed Mbappe was destined for big things.

Nike came calling with free shoes when he was just 10. A little over six years later, he made his first-team debut for Monaco. But the progress between those two points was not smooth.

Allan Momege was a classmate of Mbappe at Clairefontaine.

"At the time I met him, he wasn't the player who impressed me the most," Momege says of Mbappe in the BBC Sport documentary.

"He didn't stand out for me as a player during the trials. The first time I saw him play, I didn't think, 'Wow!'

"There were regional selections and Kylian wasn't in the best team."

Matt Spiro, an author and French football expert, echoes Momege.

"Kylian initially found it a bit difficult at Clairefontaine," he says. "He was there for two years and during the first year, he certainly wasn't the best in his group. I think even Kylian would admit that.

"Mbappe would play out on the wing and would quite frequently be in a sulky mood. He had a growth spurt, I think towards the end of his first year in Clairefontaine, and by the second year, he was really starting to look the business.

"Then people were thinking, we've got a very, very special talent on our hands."

That talent was picked up by Monaco scouts in July 2013, when he was aged 14.

Moving from the Parisian suburbs to the wealthy, sunny Cote d'Azur at such a young age could have made others go inside themselves.

Not the boy from Bondy.

Soon after his arrival, Mbappe and his new team-mates were set an assignment to design a magazine cover with an image of themselves on the front.

The most logical design would be a sports magazine, or perhaps a national weekly magazine such as Paris Match. Mbappe's choice?

The internationally recognised Time Magazine.

And the headline he chose? El Maestro. The Master.

Only four years later, having led France to World Cup glory in Russia and joined Pele as only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final, those big dreams became a reality. His face appeared on the front of Time for real.

"Crazy," he told Time in the accompanying interview.

"Every kid has ambition. But when that comes true, after only a few years, it's something crazy."

Crazy talent means crazy money and another example of the determination of Mbappe to have total control over his journey.

"In the summer of 2017, Real Madrid, who had been chasing Mbappe since he was 11, had a deal with Monaco - 180m euros (£161m) for an 18-year-old," explains French football expert Julien Laurens.

"Monaco said to Kylian: 'Listen, this is too good for us to turn down, we've decided to sell you to Real Madrid.' And Kylian went: 'Woah, woah, woah... nobody tells me what to do. I decide my own future. Not you, not him, not her. Me. Me and my family.'"

What they decided was to go home.

Mbappe became the most expensive teenager in the world by joining PSG instead.

Madrid have had to wait another seven years to get their man – with Mbappe reportedly receiving a 150m euro (£128m) signing-on bonus when he joins this summer.

Big, fulfilled dreams, riches beyond belief and unbridled potential still in store.

It is enough to inflate any ego. And it has been suggested that Mbappe's is as outsized as his talent.

Mbappe celebrates with a shrug, while playing for PSG against Metz
Mbappe scored on his Paris St-Germain debut, a 5-1 win over Metz in September 2017 [Getty]

Numerous media stories have portrayed Mbappe as something close to a megalomaniac, accused of wielding influence over PSG's tactics and transfer decisions.

Often accompanying such negative headlines have been unflattering asides about the influence of the Mbappe family machine at large – particularly his mother and agent Lamari.

Former PSG performance director Martin Buccheit worked directly with Mbappe between 2014 and 2020.

He has since written a book on the subject of ego, and argues Mbappe's family have intervened on occasions if he showed signs of getting above himself.

It wouldn't be the first time. Lamari once made Mbappe wear flares to school for a week when she heard he had criticised a classmate's appearance.

"Ego is a necessary drive for success," says Buccheit. "But it's more about having a hand on the dial to control it. Sometime you use it and put the volume up when you really need to stand out or show up.

"But sometimes you have to be able to listen and get back on the humility side.

"Kylian didn't always have the hand on the on the dial. But for sure the family, the mum and the parents were really behind him. And I could feel that maybe the parents had the volume in their hands."

Whoever is in control off the pitch, Mbappe's talents on it have flourished.

By his 25th birthday in December 2023, Mbappe had scored 306 goals for club and country – nearly double the total of 160 managed at the same age by his childhood hero Ronaldo, and also ahead of Lionel Messi (279).

Heading into the 2024 European Championship, he is third on France's all-time scoring list. With 46 international goals, he is closing in fast on Thierry Henry (51) and Olivier Giroud (57).

Such is Mbappe's influence that France boss Didier Deschamps made him captain in 2023.

Was the decision to give him the armband a no-brainer? Is he the complete article?

"Kylian? Yes, of course," Deschamps says.

"Some people talk about his egoism, but egoism is a big word.

“It applies to all forwards, and certainly all attackers. No, the role suits him. He's totally up to the job.”

Up to that job, but not quite up to the task of carrying PSG to Champions League glory.

The trophy most desired by the club’s Qatari owners has remained out of reach, despite heavy investment.

Mbappe’s seventh and final Champions League campaign with PSG ended in semi-final defeat by Borussia Dortmund earlier this month. The closest he has got to lifting European club football's biggest prize is a final defeat by Bayern Munich in 2020.

That trophy, along with the individual accolades such as the Ballon d'Or and Fifa's Best award, is still absent from his list of honours. Project Mbappe is not yet complete.

But, he has the time, hunger and, in Real Madrid, the stage to complete the long-stated familial goal – to become the greatest player of his or any other era.

Previously on Insight