If England are to progress beyond the quarter-final tonight, they will somehow have to contain the astounding skill, speed and power of Frenchman Kylian Mbappe (pictured)
The maroon door opens to reveal a scene of grinding hardship.One that typifies the existence of migrant families mired in ‘les banlieues’ — the grim city suburbs that stand testimony to the fractures in French society.
Though the woman who greets me is wearing a striking African dress and a resolute smile, she is clearly struggling to contain four of her six boisterous children in the tiny council flat, with a bedsit lounge, grease-stained kitchenette and just two bedrooms.
Consigned to this second-floor shoebox, in a tower-block in Bondy, on the northern outskirts of Paris, she and her family have modest aspirations: a bigger house, better food, decently paid jobs.
Poignantly, one of the boys says he hopes to drive a dustbin wagon when he grows up.
The incomers who were housed here before them, Wilfried Mbappe Lottin, who arrived from Cameroon, and his wife Fayza Lamari, who came from Algeria, had an altogether loftier goal.
From the moment their toddler son, Kylian, began kicking a football around the flat (‘the constant bouncing noise on my ceiling drove me half crazy,’ laughs a woman from Martinique who still lives below) they could see he had a preternatural gift for the game.
Indeed, he was so precociously talented that, even then, they began planning in earnest for the glittering career that surely awaited him when he achieved greatness.
They proved sound judges.During this World Cup, Kylian Mbappe has been hailed as the greatest player on the planet, usurping Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, whose powers are fading with age.
And if England are to progress beyond the quarter-final tonight, they will somehow have to contain the 23-year-old Frenchman’s astounding skill, speed and power.
Kylian (pictured aged 14 posing beneath Real Madrid posters) was so precociously talented that, even as a toddler, his parents began planning in earnest for the glittering career that surely awaited him when he achieved greatness
Down the long, disillusioning years since 1966, England’s yeoman footballers have seen their World Cup hopes flounder at the feet of various geniuses.Maradona and Pele, to name but two.
Mbappe threatens to be their latest nemesis. To say he’s fast is rather like saying that nuclear missiles can be combustible. This man doesn’t just sprint, he positively explodes leaving defenders flailing in his slipstream.
After vainly trying to keep pace with him in the last round of the tournament, Aston Villa’s Polish defender Matty Cash admitted that his ‘legs burned’ with pain.
In France, Mbappe is seldom out of the headlines. Recent stories have included his dalliance with a transgender Playboy model, and (he agreed to sign only after President Macron pleaded with him to stay loyal to France and reject a similarly vast deal offered by Real Madrid).
Here in England, however, the new king of football remains largely unknown. So, this week, I went into the Parisian suburbs to trace his extraordinary rise and find out what kind of man we are up against.