Opinion

Why Kylian Mbappé has a nose for change

French football's talisman is breaking news as well as bones – more power to him

Kylian Mbappé after breaking his nose against Austria

Kylian Mbappé after breaking his nose against Austria. IMAGE: AP Photo/Andreea Alexandr

I’ve become a little obsessed with Kylian Mbappé’s nose. And why wouldn’t I be? The noble nose met the rather substantial shoulder of Austrian centre-back Kevin Danso during France’s opening Euro 2024 match against Austria. And while the shoulder remained solid, the nose moved in several different directions.

Mbappé is the French national captain and a global superstar about to embark, next season, on a career-defining period with Real Madrid. Planets were aligning for him to be the talismanic player of the championship, the one who would become accepted as the world’s best player.

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But the impact of the collision has changed that. Associated Press ran frequent updates. Media around the world was on alert. L’Équipe, the huge French daily sports paper, carried Mbappé front pages on consecutive days. One, just two days in, said, darkly, life without Mbappé has begun.

Mbappé has always had an air of otherness about him. He won the World Cup when he was 19, and immediately donated his winnings, about £400,000, to a children’s charity in Paris. He comes from the poor banlieues north of the city, has enjoyed huge success generating the wealth of Croesus (he’s thought to earn around £400,000 a week) but has remained committed to offering kids from his background a way ahead. He walks, not just talks, a sense of social responsibility.

Even ahead of the match against Austria, while other players were locked in their moments, Mbappé was surrounded by young mascots, all of whom wanted his autograph. He signed books and shirts until he could delay no longer and had to take to the pitch.

One of the other reasons he has become of major interest is because he speaks about things well beyond football.

Recently French president Emmanuel Macron stunned Europe by calling a snap parliamentary election in France. The far-right National Rally party, moulded by Marine Le Pen, won a massive percentage of French votes in the European parliamentary election. Rather than appease, Macron decided to challenge. He dissolved parliament and called for the vote. It will run on 30 June and 7 July. They don’t hang around, the French.

There is a chance centrist Macron’s gamble won’t pay off. A lot of the votes for National Rally came from younger people losing faith with what they see as a remote elite.

So Kylian Mbappé, the figurehead and child of immigrants, spoke up. He urged young voters to reject “extremists” who, he said, were at “the gates of power”. He added: “We have an opportunity to choose the future of the country and we have to emphasise the importance of the task.” He also warned against voter apathy. The French FA president Philippe Diallo backed Mbappé, and teammate Marcus Thuram, who also spoke out. “These are young men who have an opinion on social issues,” he said.

The leader of Le Pen’s party, Jordan Bardella, criticised Mbappé. It was not his place, he said. How often the ‘stay in your own lane’ phrase, or variations, bubble up when people who aren’t politicians speak on politics.

One person I heard defend Kylian Mbappé was, oddly, former England centre-back Matthew Upson, best known for his time at West Ham and now a football pundit. Why shouldn’t Mbappé speak, said Upson, as everything, when you get down to it, is political.

He’s right. Whether it’s during a time of flux or a time of steadiness, why shouldn’t we hear from those in positions to impact? They have as much right as anybody else to speak and it shows a great deal of responsibility beyond the selfish closed remote world we can sometimes accuse some successful stars of living in. I’d be very interested to hear just where Harry Kane or John McGinn stand on issues of the UK’s political future.

So allez Kylian, with your mangled schnozzle. Don’t stop.

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

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