MOSCOW: Kylian Mbappe and another supremely talented generation of French players may just be getting started after overcoming Croatia to win the World Cup in Russia.
While the 19-year-old is the poster boy for France’s new crop of talent, the make-up of the squad suggests they have the youth and firepower to dominate international football for years to come.
The average age of a fine back four of Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Hernandez is just 23.
Ousmane Dembele, who cost Barcelona 105 million euros ($123 million), played for just two minutes in the knockout stages, while France’s other goalscorers on Sunday, Antoine Griezmann, 27, and Paul Pogba, 25, are in their prime.
In scoring his fourth goal of the tournament and France’s fourth of a 4-2 win in the World Cup final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, Mbappe — named young player of tournament — became the youngest player since Pele to score in football’s biggest match.
“I have a story to write, this is just the beginning,” Mbappe warned the world. “I intend to go even further.”
It is not the first time in Russia the lightning-quick Paris Saint-Germain forward has drawn comparisons with the Brazilian great. In scoring twice against Argentina in the last 16, Mbappe became the first teenager since Pele to score multiple goals in a World Cup game.
“If Kylian keeps equalling my records like this I may have to dust my boots off again,” tweeted Pele.
After starring as a 17-year-old in 1958, Pele went on to win two more World Cups, and while Mbappe has much to do to match those feats, there is no telling how dominant a young French squad littered with world-class players can become.
Just nine players of the World Cup-winning squad were at Euro 2016, although there were just five changes comparing the starting line-ups from the two finals.
Only Nigeria sent a younger group than Didier Deschamps’s 23 to Russia yet France can boast serial winners at club level in Varane, Mbappe, Pogba and N´Golo Kante.
“Kylian Mbappe is just 19. I hope he will win it again but you never know,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
“Just like 20 years ago there were also 19-year-old players like David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry. They could have (won it again), but did not.”
France make amends
Despite a failure to lift the World Cup a second time, Henry, Trezeguet and Deschamps were part of the side that backed up their success by winning Euro 2000.
Following in the footsteps of their boss, who captained the 1998 World Cup-winning side, is the challenge for France after making amends for losing the Euro 2016 final on home soil.
The difference in 2016 was that Deschamps did not have Mbappe to call on when looking for inspiration against Portugal.
Mbappe’s performances in Russia are the culmination of a whirlwind two years for the world’s most expensive teenager after two Ligue 1 titles and a 180 million euro move from Monaco to PSG.
“Winning a World Cup so young opens doors. Now I need to keep working,” added Mbappe, who insisted he will “100 per cent” remain at PSG despite interest from Real Madrid in making him Cristiano Ronaldo’s successor at the European champions.
Mbappe seems destined to one day inherit Ronaldo’s crown as the holder of the Ballon d’Or and is now a contender to end the domination of the Portuguese and Lionel Messi.
Ominously for the competition, France only look like getting stronger as Mbappe and a host of youthful teammates mature.
“The new players have helped us enormously,” said Griezmann. “Pavard, Lucas and Kyky (Mbappe) have added an extra dimension to this team.”