Kylian Mbappe missed the decisive penalty in France's Euro 2020 game against Switzerland. Now, how he reacts to this will define him.
Kylian Mbappe stepped up to take France’s last penalty in the shootout against Switzerland and there was little reason to believe he would miss. After all, the 22-year-old plays with the confidence and finesse of someone five years older. Indeed, there’s a reason he was picked as the final penalty taker. In a shootout, your final taker is the one most likely nailed on to score. The Parisian forward is as close to a guaranteed goal-getter as you will get. Unfortunately, as France found out after being knocked out of Euro 2020, there is no such thing as ‘guaranteed’ in elite sport.
And so France, the 2018 World Cup winners, are heading home after the Round of 16 itself. In the space of two days, three big time favourites have departed. France join Netherlands and defending Euro champions Portugal on an early flight home.
But the spotlight will be on Mbappe – and not in a good way. The forward was the star man in a team full of stars, expected even at his young age to deliver the goods – becauuse that is what he does.
Instead, he will be sitting at home in the summer and reflecting on what is arguably the first major setback of his career.
Mbappe has been on the losing side of a final before – with PSG in the 2020 Champions League. But they lost to a Bayern Munich side operating on another level.
Switzerland, with all due respect and while taking nothing away from their win, aren’t at that level. The draw was seen as a kind one for France, because the Swiss team are perennial whipping boys once the knockout stages roll around.
Yet this time, it was the Swiss team that did the whipping. And France, seen by many as favourites to win the Euros too and emulate the sides of 1998 and 2000, are out.
After the game, Mbappe took to Twitter and posted a long statement. He apologised for the miss, and admitted it would be hard to sleep.
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) June 28, 2021
As he notes in his statement, missing penalties is just a risk that comes in this game. There are fine margins between success and failure, and every elite sportsman will have to experience both in his lifetime.
It’s also worth noting that Mbappe has experienced a ton of success for someone his age. He made his league debut for Monaco aged 16 and broke Theirry Henry’s record as the club’s youngest goalscorer.
One season later, he was Ligue 1 champion and joined PSG as the second-most expensive player ever. And after his first full season at PSG – which saw them win all domestic honours – he was a world champion with France.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that he earned his success. Yet most will agree that you learn more from failures than you do from success.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for Mbappe from all this? Humility.
Prior to the tournament itself, Mbappe was embroiled in a controversy involving teammate Olivier Giroud. The veteran striker admitted after a friendly that the players needed to pick out each other’s forward runs better.
Mbappe somehow took this as a slight on himself and wanted to hold a press conference to address the matter. Intervention from manager Didier Deschamps stopped the impromptu press meet from taking place.
However, afterwards Mbappe made his feelings clear in another interaction.
“What he said does not bother me more than that. He expresses a feeling when he speaks. I’m a forward and I’ve had that feeling 365 times in a game, when you feel like you’re not being served.
“It’s more about releasing it publicly. I saw him in the dressing room, I congratulated him on his goals, he didn’t say anything to me. I heard about it in the press. That’s more (important) than what he said – he didn’t say anything bad.”
Unfortunately for Mbappe, the story saw him come off far worse. Giroud is, by all accounts, a consummate pro. Thus, it added to the perception of Mbappe being a prima donna.
One could argue that Mbappe has earned his superstar status, given all that he’s accomplished in his career. However, there’s a simple counter-argument to be made that, despite his achievements, he doesn’t yet have the career of an all-time great. It’s also worth noting that he failed to score once in France’s four Euro 2020 games.
Football has seen enough talented prodigies fall due to arrogance. As things stand, Mbappe seems too big to fail. But elite sport is a ruthless world.
There’s no doubting the talent of Kylian Mbappe, But how he rebounds from this setback – both as a person and a player – will define the next stage of his career.