The torch. The crown. The throne. It’s metaphorical. But oh, so real. It absolutely exists. No doubt about it. It exists in every sport – whether the incumbent wishes to let it go or not.
The change is often visible in other sports; Basketball, American Football, boxing, etc. It’s clear who’s got the title as the best. As the next era-defining player. LeBron James was anointed ‘the one’ the second he came to national attention, even as a 16-year-old. Tom Brady ripped it from Peyton Manning after beating him year on year to get to Super Bowl after Super Bowl. Floyd Mayweather wrestled it from Oscar De La Hoya with masterful destruction across 12 rounds. But in football… in football, the baton often gets laid down. And there’s a jostle between a series of players as to who will get the title.
Who is next? Mbappé?
After the inevitably early decline of the Gaucho (otherwise known as Ronaldinho), the throne was abdicated. Would Leo Messi take it? How about Cristiano Ronaldo? Would Adriano pull himself together? Could Kaka go up another notch? Within 3 years, Lionel Messi proved he was far and away the man of this era, especially after he demolished Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United in the Champions League final back in 2009.
Messi has been the pick for best in the world for a long time. This is an opinion I do not personally share, as I believe Neymar has been the best since 2017, but now… now the landscape is shifting. There has been a young player from Bondy, but he became a man when he just was a little boy. Less and less people see Messi as the best, with more and more favouring the Frenchman. The youthful exuberance combined with the raw athleticism. It has brought more and more people to side with PSG’s superstar.
Especially after the destruction we’ve seen in the Champions League tie between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, with Mbappe stealing the show and leaving the Argentine lagging behind with a rip-roaring display of speed, venom and power merged with elite technique. He completely took over the tie, especially in round one. It was a spectacle to behold.
He made Messi look old. He made him look unathletic. Rigid. He was made to look everything Mbappe is not. Mbappe is fluid, mobile and full of youth, ready to destroy everything in his path.
Has he destroyed everything yet? No. The Champions League final still rests as a black mark. But if this round is anything to go by, the rest of the world is in trouble.
Is Mbappe even the best in the world yet? I don’t know, and I don’t care. But what I do know is, there are moments in life when we have to accept things have passed us by. And the mantle has passed Lionel Messi by. It was a good run, but it’s over.
In new hands…
Kylian Mbappé has made sure of Messi’s end. And he will make sure by the season’s end he’s revered as the clear cut best player on the planet. Forget about Haaland, Felix, Foden and similar youthful company. Anyone you want to compare to the prodigal genius of the boy from Bondy ultimately falls short.
He is too diverse as a forward. He’s fast, strong, too athletic, too nimble. Too good. He is only just getting started. Provided he stays healthy, nothing can stop this man in pursuit of the all-time status he so desperately covets.
This tie, in 5 years. In 10 years. When looking back at this era of football in 25 years. The passing of the torch. The era of Messi, the genius diminutive number 10, the 21st century’s answer to Maradona – to the athletic, powerful forward era of the Brazilian Ron… Kylian Mbappé. I had to catch myself there. Not yet. I won’t feed those comparisons just yet.
But the torch is in a new hand. The throne has a new occupant. The crown has a new head to rest on, and it was obvious from the moment he sliced the Champions League in half one year and ripped the World Cup to pieces the next. This round of games just confirmed what we already knew. Mbappe has it next.
Funnily enough, his World Cup excellence also involves crimes against the Argentine genius in the round of 16 en route to the World Cup crown, capped off with a goal in the final. Take two?
The football world has a new king, ladies and gentlemen. And his name is Kylian Mbappé. The future is now. And the future is frighteningly good.
Words by Mustafa Jawad – @Mussy__J10
Graphic by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_