It wasn’t France vs. Argentina, it was 10th vs. 10th. Golden Boot’s Paris Saint-Germain teammate. One nearing the end of his extended football reign against one already on the throne. At 23, he’s a man coveting World Cup glory against a potential two-time world champion. Adjusting for noise, however, reveals that the story is more subtle. Mbappe and Messi are the faces of the team, but their roles in this World Cup are contradictory. For Mbappe, winning the 2018 World Cup made him a superstar and made him unbeatable in the eyes of the French. However, his transfer narrative at Real Madrid, coupled with frustration despite signing a mega-contract with PSG, lowered the position he held.
“He’s still very popular, but I think his status as one of the best footballers in the world has changed perception a little bit. He’s been incredible not only by team goals but by individual goals.” He’s a driven person,” says Matt Spiro, author of Sacre Bleu.
From Zidane to Mbappe – a football journey.
“I don’t think he’ll be the easiest to integrate into the crowd.” Focusing on the collective is a central tenet of French coach Didier Deschamps’ philosophy. Last year, the team’s harmony was at its lowest since taking office in 2012. Ahead of last year’s European Championship, Mbappe had a public altercation with AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud after he suggested he was not the right fit. There were reports of a power struggle after the team’s exit to Switzerland in the tournament. Mbappe has been at odds with the French federation over portrait rights since March of this year, and in September he refused to participate in the team’s photo shoot for the same reason. The team seems to wholeheartedly embrace the narrative that Messi is his last chance to win the World Cup. It made sense to the team. There is single-mindedness in their efforts to help him win the World Championship.
Messi also unites this team on the pitch. He is chief his orchestrator, making his opponents dance to his tunes and his teammates to his rhythm. He has been involved in 9 of the 12 goals he has scored so far. He simplifies the midfielder’s job, removing the creative responsibility from them and allowing them to focus on their primary job: defending him. The captain was better than the team in this World Cup. There is an important difference. So far Messi has come from another world in tournaments. There is a crucial difference between Messi and Mbappe. France can win the World Cup even if Mbappe is silent. Without Messi showing up, Argentina has no hope of winning.