BONDY, France, Jun 29 – Only a short cycle up the canal from central Paris towards the French capital’s deprived northern suburbs lies Bondy, the hometown of boy wonder Kylian Mbappe.
Until recently, next to the canal and the busy flyovers, on the side of a block of flats, was a mural of Mbappe, arms crossed in a Paris Saint-Germain shirt. It was accompanied by the slogan “Bondy, Villes des Possibles” — the town where anything is possible.
But the mural has now gone, with Mbappe instead popping up a few kilometres away at the Stade de France.
Outside the national stadium, Nike have reworked their famous Eric Cantona advert from the 1990s: “’98 was a great year for French football. Kylian was born.”
Two decades after Zinedine Zidane’s face was projected onto the Arc de Triomphe in the wake of France’s World Cup final win over Brazil, Mbappe carries the hopes of a nation into Saturday’s last-16 tie with Argentina in Kazan.
Back in Bondy, they are proud of a player who is already a superstar despite not turning 20 until December.
“It had become a tourist attraction in the town. Lots of people would come especially to take photos, even Asian tourists,” says 17-year-old Wael of the now-departed mural.
“He is our boy from the street who has gone on to be a success, so he is an example for us all.”
From the town’s Stade Leo-Lagrange to Monaco, a record transfer to PSG and now a World Cup tie against Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Mbappe’s trajectory is the stuff of dreams.
“The example of Kylian means that all the youngsters see themselves in him,” Athmane Airouche, the president of the local club AS Bondy, told AFP.
“He is the best player to come out of Bondy but we have brought through a fair few: more than 30 professionals!
“We really work hard at youth development. The advice that Kylian got is the same that the youngsters get now. For us there is no difference between a good player and an average one.”
He adds: “The main thing is to explain to them that while football is great, their studies are even better. If things are not going well at school, they don’t play football.”
– A sporting family –
The young Kylian was determined to follow in the footsteps of his “brother” Jires Kembo, who was raised by the Mbappe family after moving to France from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and who went on to become a professional, moving from Bondy to start out at Rennes.
Mbappe began playing as a four-year-old and it was only a few years later that it became clear he had an extraordinary talent that would eventually lead PSG to make him the second most expensive player in the world at 180 million euros ($210 million).
“Kylian was very quickly spotted and in local tournaments he sort of became the ‘starlet’. He is a boy who has never been anonymous, never just one player among many others,” explained Ilyes Ramdani, who came up against Mbappe on the pitches of the Paris suburbs and is now a journalist.
“Physically, he was much more frail and slender, but he was just as talented on the ball, and he had this exceptional ability in one-on-one situations that I have never seen since.
“He has progressed, obviously, but you get the impression that he is still the same kid today.”
Mbappe was mollycoddled by parents heavily involved in the local community and sporting scene — his father Wilfried is a coach at AS Bondy, his mother Fayza is a former handball player.
They helped nurture his career along from the French national football centre at Clairefontaine to the Monaco academy and now PSG and the national team.
“He wants us to be like his son, so that we succeed in life. He tells us to keep training hard, never give up. He is a great coach,” says Chakib, who played under Wilfried Mbappe in AS Bondy’s under-15 team last year.
“He was an extraordinary player, a midfielder, a number 10. As a coach, he can be hard, even towards his friends,” adds Airouche, who played with and under Mbappe senior.
That upbringing has been key to the rise of Kylian, who on Saturday has the chance to take the next step to French national hero.