Whilst Lionel Messi is expected to pick up his eighth Ballon d’Or on the 30th of October, there are several legitimate reasons why Kylian Mbappé (24), who alongside Erling Haaland is Messi’s biggest rival for the prize, could be a surprise winner of the accolade awarded by France Football.
A Record-Breaking Year
If there is one thing often associated with the Paris Saint-Germain forward, it is breaking records. 2023 has been a year of new records for Mbappé with both France and PSG.
Before the start of the year, the newly-appointed France captain stole the headlines and saw records tumble as he netted a hat trick in the 2022 World Cup final against Argentina. The Frenchman became the all-time top goalscorer in World Cup finals, the first player to score a hat trick in the final since Geoff Hurst for England in 1966 and became the first Frenchman to win the Golden Boot at the competition since Just Fontaine in 1958. This wouldn’t be the last time the former Monaco man broke one of Fontaine’s records. Despite a truly astonishing evening, his exploits weren’t enough to bring home a second successive trophy for Les Bleus.
For club and country, Mbappé also matched the French record tally of goals in a season as he pulled level alongside Fontaine on an impressive total of 53 goals for the 2022/23 season. In 2023, the 24-year-old has also surpassed Edinson Cavani’s record of 138 goals in Ligue 1 to become the club’s all-time top scorer in the French top flight. Mbappé has also taken major strides towards becoming France’s all-time top goalscorer in 2023, moving to 4th in the standings with 43 strikes.
The Bondy-born attacker has taken on lots of responsibility within the calendar year of 2023 and it doesn’t look to have phased him one bit. Following Hugo Lloris’ retirement from international football, France manager Didier Deschamps was left with the task of appointing a new captain to replace the Spurs keeper. Most people believed that Deschamps would appoint Antoine Greizmann due to his importance and experience in a France shirt. However, the former OM manager placed full faith in Mbappé as his captain.
It is not uncommon for the best players to be named captain due to their ability to lead by example, but the former Monaco attacker has shown that he can do much more than just lead by example for Les Bleus. Despite being an emphatic performer on the pitch, the Frenchman has been a true leader for France. When asked about Mbappé’s role as France’s captain, Deschamps said, “He’s the leader, he is extremely important.”
The PSG attacker has also stepped up his leadership responsibilities for his club following the departures of senior players and Luis Campos’ summer reconstruction of the club which has seen the average age at the Parc des Princes brought down considerably.
Success with Club & Country
As is often expected, Mbappé was once again the protagonist in Ligue 1 as he spearheaded PSG to a 9th Ligue 1 title in 11 seasons and finished as the competition’s top goalscorer with 29 strikes. This is often expected from the Frenchman but not always a given and his imperious scoring form was the real inspiration for PSG’s narrow clenching of the title. Lens were the eventual runners-up to PSG and only finished one point behind Les Parisiens. Mbappé also assisted six goals in the French top flight and formed an impressive partnership with the bookies’ favourite for the Ballon d’Or – Lionel Messi.
The Bleus captain was also the driving force to France’s success during the last year. As captain, the 24-year-old was decisive in helping Didier Deschamps’ men qualify for EURO 2024 with two games to spare. He has scored 6 goals and assisted a further two in six matches during France’s EURO 2024 qualifying campaign.
Despite France falling at the final hurdle, Mbappé produced one of the most spell-binding performances ever seen from a footballer in the biggest game the sport has to offer during the World Cup final in Qatar. In addition to the forward’s excellence in the final, he was instrumental in Les Bleus reaching a second consecutive final – scoring eight goals and assisting two in seven appearances. A different result in the penalty shootout and we could be talking about Mbappé being the favourite to take home world football’s most prestigious individual award, and perhaps, given that it is an individual and not a collective award, we should be talking of Mbappé as the favourite.