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Kylian Mbappe, the best teenage player of all time?
Kylian Mbappe, at 19 a World Cup Winner, two-time league champion, FIFA World Cup Team of the Year recipient, and a top 10 Ballon d'Or finish amongst a list of many other accomplishments any professional athlete would be proud of. Mbappe is well on his way to legendary status but how does he compare to the legends of the game. Is he the greatest 19-year-old player of all time?
We start with the most obvious comparison, Thierry Henry. At 19, Thierry Henry was already a French International after leading As Monaco to a Ligue 1 championship, the same club where he and Mbappe started their professional careers 21 years apart. However, at 19 Thierry Henry only had one international cap under his name while Mbappe is already on 28 appearances. The parallels are there as both were named the Ligue 1 young player of the year, in fact it was Mbappe who broke Henry's record as the youngest goal scorer for Monaco. While Henry would later go on to lead Monaco to a champions league semi-final and France to a World Cup championship both came after his 20th birthday, those are feats Mbappe has already accomplished and then some. Point Mbappe.
Next up is Michael Owen, a true teenage phenomenon. At 17 he made his Liverpool debut, at 18 he was on the English national team, and by his 20th birthday he had a premier league golden boot and player of the year trophy to his name. Owen's individual awards dwarf Mbappe's at the same age but at 19, Mbappe is a world cup champion and his 6 team trophies compare favorably to the 9 Owen would amass over his entire career. Point Mbappe.
Up next is a teammate of Mbappe's at PSG. Neymar is already a legend of the game at 26 and at 19 he was well on his way. Clips of the teenage Neymar wreaking havoc in the Brazilian first division are still a hot commodity on YouTube over half a decade later. Neymar had the goals, awards and the international appearances to back his fame but they were all from the Brazilian first division, a league that falls short in comparison to Europe's best leagues. Point Mbappe.
Wayne Rooney announced himself to the world stage with a screamer of a game winning goal for Everton against Arsenal 5 days before his 17th birthday, ending Arsenal's 30 match unbeaten run. From that moment on Rooney never looked back and by 20 he had broken Michael Owen's record as the youngest English national team player. While Rooney was an incredible athlete at 19, the majority of Rooney's success would come after his 20th birthday. Point Mbappe.
As a teenager, Maradona had already scored over 100 career goals, Maradona was also already an international legend by his 20th birthday. Maradona was named the best player at the 1979, U20 World Cup at the age of 18 as he led Argentina to the championship. Maradona also had the Argentine first division top goal scorer and South American player of the year trophies all to his name before his 20th birthday. However, all of his teenage club goals came in Argentina and he would not win his first senior trophy until the age of 21. Point Mbappe.
The original Ronaldo aka the Brazilian Ronaldo aka the Phenomenon. Just how dominant was the Brazilian legend as a teenager? At 18 years old he had 44 goals in 47 games in the Brazilian first division including 20 in 21 in his debutant season at the age of 17. At 17 he was on the Brazilian team that won the 1994 World Cup in the United States. At 19 he added another 54 goals in 57 goals to his career tally this time in the Dutch first division. It all came to a totality in December of 1996 when he was named FIFA World Player of the year, and although he was 20 at the time, the award was in recognition of his accomplishments over the calendar year which were mostly as a 19-year-old. Mbappe does make an argument when it comes to degree of difficult, for example Mbappe was named in the World Cup Team of the tournament while Ronaldo did not actually play a game for the 1994 World Cup winning team. I believe this to be a toss-up but ultimately point Mbappe due to his contribution to a world cup success.
Pele. Not much else need be said about the man a large part of the footballing world considers to be the greatest player of all time. At 17, Pele scored two goals in the 1958 World Cup Final to finish with 6 goals and lead Brazil to what was at the time their first world cup trophy. By 19 Pele was a worldwide star with requests to make appearances around the globe. You could argue he was the first true international sports star and all of this before his 20th birthday. However, domestically all of Pele's domination came in the Brazilian first division and while he was still dominant it must be considered that the Brazilian division at the time was considered a cake walk. But ultimately Mbappe's 4 world cup goals and 1 final's goal compare well to Pele's 6 and 2 respectively. It comes down to degree of difficult and Mbappe has the edge. Point Mbappe.
Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player of all time is up next. While CR7 would grow into a 5 time Ballon'D'Or winner and collect over 25 (and counting) winners medals in his career, he only had 15 senior club goals to his name by his 20th birthday in comparison to Mbappe's 67. While Ronaldo would develop into one of the greatest of all time, at 19 Mbappe is the more accomplished player. Point Mbappe.
Lionel Messi, the yang to Ronaldo's yin. The two have went back and forth for the last decade with periods of unprecedented dominance, and at 19 Messi gave us a glimpse of what was to come when he scored what some suggest is the greatest goal of all time. However, at 19 there isn't much to separate Messi at that age to Mbappe now, both showed glimpses of incredible talent and both had already achieved success at the club level. But the most telling difference is that at 19, Mbappe has already won the only trophy that has eluded Messi his whole career, the World Cup. Point Mbappe.
It is important to note that none of this is to suggest that Mbappe is better than any of the players listed above or even in the same conversation. But at 19 Mbappe is as accomplished if not more accomplished than any 19-year-old that has ever played the game. The future is bright and Mbappe could become one of the greatest of all time.
Did we miss anyone? Vote and Let us know in the comments below.
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