From an early age, it was clear Kylian Mbappe was special. He wasn’t, to quote a rather famous Chelsea legend, one of the bottle.
Mbappe’s coaches at Bondy knew it. Those who watched him play for the small club on the outskirts of Paris knew it. And so did former Chelsea scout Serge Daniel Boga.
It was he, on the advice of a friend who worked at Nike, who saw Mbappe early. Inevitably, he was enamoured with the forward, then just 11 years old.
“I called everyone at Chelsea whom I dealt with, like Jim Fraser. I said ‘Listen, I have this kid you have to look at,'” Boga told Goal in 2018.
A trial was quickly sorted. Mbappe and his family were brought over to England in 2012 and the young French star spent a week at Cobham training with the club’s Under-12s, which at the time included the likes of Tammy Abraham and Jeremie Boga.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Mbappe recalled in an interview with The Telegraph four years ago. “Chelsea was the first great club, the first big club, that I went to visit. So it was a real discovery for me.
“I was coming from my grassroots, amateur club. It was a whole new world. Of course, I had an idea what a great football club was like but I was really impressed by the working culture and the mentality of wanting to be better day-in, day-out.”
At the end of his week-long trial, Mbappe played for Chelsea against Charlton. With ‘Kylian 10’ emblazoned on the back of his shirt, he partnered Abraham in a 7-0 victory.
There was then a meeting with two Chelsea stars: Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda. It’s something which Mbappe has since stated reinforced his desire to make it to the top of the professional game.
What happened next was very much a sliding doors moment. Had Chelsea been convinced, had they offered Mbappe a contract after that week-long trial, perhaps the Blues would’ve possessed one of the most talented players of his generation.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the club erred on the side of caution. Mbappe was invited back for another week, the club keen to take a second look. That offer was turned down.
“I remember what the mother (Fayza) said to this day,” Boga explained. “She spoke in French to Fraser and I was translating. She said to me, ‘Listen, my boy won’t be coming back. If they want him they have to take him now or in five year’s time they will be coming back to buy him for €50 million.'”
Chelsea’s hesitancy in signing Mbappe was focused on his off-the-ball work. Or lack of it, to be more specific. “Defensively, he wasn’t there yet,” Boga added. “When he got the ball, he was unbelievable, but without the ball, he didn’t work a lot.”
Perhaps the Blues expected too much from Mbappe. He hadn’t played for a professional club before, hadn’t been exposed to the same level of coaching as the likes of Abraham, Boga, and several others.
Mbappe has admitted his week at Chelsea changed his mindset. It made him more aware of the demands placed upon young footballers, particularly in the English game.
“Visiting this infrastructure helped me, actually, with my development,” he said. “I saw things differently because up until then I had just a French mentality. After that, I could pick what was positive in other mentalities and build my own.”
In the years that followed, Real Madrid came calling and he spent time on trial with the club’s Under-15s. There was also interest from Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and every side in the French top flight. But after two years at Clairefontaine, and still only 15 years old, he settled on Monaco.
Mbappe became Monaco’s youngest-ever player at 16 years and 347 days, beating the record set by Thierry Henry. His ascent in the following five-and-a-half years has been spectacular.
The France international, who doesn’t celebrate his 23rd birthday until December, is a World Cup winner and has won Ligue 1 on four occasions. There have been several other domestic trophies.
He’s also the second most expensive player of all time: his £154m move from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain only behind that of teammate Neymar.
“He’s a shark, in his mentality,” Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel, who worked with Mbappe for two seasons at PSG, told BT Sport earlier this year. “He wants to grab everything that he can have. This is the mentality that you need.
“And I mean it in a positive way because he’s a nice guy in private and in person, super nice guy, super intelligent, super funny.
“But once he’s on the pitch he’s a shark and that’s what the best guys are. If you drop one drop of blood in the water they arrive. This is Kylian.”
This summer, Paris Saint-Germain have undertaken the most high-profile of recruitment drives in order to finally win the Champions League. Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Gini Wijnaldum, and, of couse, Lionel Messi have all arrived at the Parc des Princes.
The Ligue 1 giants have a problem, though: their shark is searching for new waters in which to hunt.
Mbappe has turned down numerous contract offers from PSG and his current deal expires next summer. Real Madrid have made their move with an offer of £137m reportedly being submitted on Sunday.
It’s no secret that Mbappe has always harboured hopes of playing for Real Madrid, of following in the footsteps of his idol: Cristiano Ronaldo.
He now may finally get that opportunity. Unfortunately for Chelsea, they missed theirs with Mbappe.