Mbappé, everything started at the Etihad

Luis Miguel Pascual

Paris, May 3 (EFE) .- Kylian Mbappé limps when he goes to the airport where he will board for Manchester. The young French promise suffers a contracture, but at the club no one doubts that he will be ready to face City in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals.

It is the most important game of the year. The award, a second consecutive final for the Franco-Qataris, is a superlative reward and Mbappé is the French team’s top scorer. In addition, for the forward it means a return to the Etihad, the scene where he began to write his feats.

Until February 21, 2017, the young player from Bondy, on the outskirts of Paris, was nothing more than a fast youth player who stood out for his impudence and power.

Leonardo Jardim, the Portuguese coach of the Principality, used him as the first replacement for his attacking partner, formed by the Colombian Radamel Falcao and the French Valère Germain.

The few minutes at his disposal served him to sign some remarkable performance, a triplet against Rennes and another against Metz, which placed the spotlight on a footballer who in December 2016 had turned 18.

Monaco carburated well and in the last 16 of the Champions League they met Pep Guardiola’s City. To disarm football control of the Catalan coach, Jardim opted for a faster footballer than Germain and Mbappé lived his debut as a starter in the Champions League.

The Etihad saw the birth of a world star. First with a shot to the crossbar and then his first European goal, which already marked the spirits against a clueless Willy Caballero.

Monaco, who lost 5-3, came back at Louis II thanks in large part to a goal from Mbappé in the 8th minute and left Guardiola’s team out in his first year in England.

That performance at the Etihad only accelerated what seemed inevitable, the emergence of a young prodigy who, little by little, was breaking the chains.

Manchester’s was the twelfth goal of his season, but it had a different meaning. The prodigy in the making was able to shine in big duels.

The French coach, Didier Deschamps, did not miss that performance either and the next day he was called up for the first time.

His presence in the Monegasque starting eleven went from being an anecdote -25 minutes played up to that moment- to becoming a goal-hitting habit: the one achieved in the second leg against City, but also the three that he scored against Borussia Dortumnd in the quarterfinals and the one he achieved in the semifinals against Juventus in Turin, insufficient to reach the final.

A little over three months had passed between that night in February and the elimination of Monaco in May, but everything had changed for Mbappé.

In the headquarters of all the great teams on the continent his name circulated as a future value, while the Russian owner of Monaco, Dmitri Rybolovlev, resigned to losing him, placed a prohibitive price on him, 180 million euros.

Madrid seemed the favorite to take over his services, especially after PSG spent 222 million euros to snatch Barcelona from Brazilian Neymar.

After many negotiations, Mbappé chose to take a smaller leap, stay in his country and join the team in the French capital, just a few kilometers from Bondy, the city on the outskirts of Paris where he grew up.

PSG paid 180 million in a financial setup that allowed it to save the financial balance rules imposed by UEFA, but which made the 18-year-old footballer the second most expensive of all time.

In the Parc des Princes he consolidated his quality, with France he raised the World Cup in Russia and now he is, together with Neymar, the banner of the team that is pursuing its second consecutive final of the Champions League.

Mbappé limps in the hours before his team has to overcome an adverse 1-2 against a City that retains the wound of his claws from that night of 2017.

All eyes will be on the figure of a player who has half the continent on edge again, because he is putting off PSG, which is urging him to renew his contract that expires in 2022.

The Etihad, where it all began for Mbappé, may also be the scene of his last European duel with the PSG shirt. EFE