Time goes by more quickly for Kylian Mbappé than it does for others. But that still doesn't tell us where he is going. One Saturday in mid-December, we’re at the headquarters of his charitable organisation, Inspired by KM in Neuilly-sur-Seine, composed of two large buildings separated by a garden where a stream flows, a haven of extravagant tranquillity less than three hundred metres from a metro line. With its large volumes, skylights and openings allowing the light to stream into the rooms from east to west, there’s a crystalline transparency countered by the damp and misty strangeness of a winter morning.
He goes beyond football, unless it is about what football has become, and more precisely about the doors it opens. That morning, the game is mentioned rarely and only in flashes in the expressions and smiles of the 2018 world champion. Mbappé is a footballer, that much is sure. But, at 22, he is already something else. He is the bearer of an industry: French football and the premier league, crippled by the coronavirus that is weakening the transfer market and the non-payment of its main broadcaster [the Mediapro channel, which having snapped up all the broadcasting rights for premier league, has been declared insolvent]. He is also in charge of the image of a 'club-state', the Paris Saint-Germain that Qatar has made its main communication vector for export. Plus a whole load of things you and I have no idea about. The day before, he’d been welcomed at the Élysée Palace. Where he navigated with a natural panache… as he does everywhere else.
“ I saw Gianluigi Buffon arrive at PSG when he was 40 years old. He had passion from morning to night and you could even see that when he was having a conversation with the car park attendant.”
Launched in January 2020, his charity, Inspired by KM accompanies 49 girls and just as many boys born between 2003 and 2010 whose education, taken care of by the classic school system, is, according to one of the project's bearers, "optimised" at all levels, from support classes to various awareness-raising workshops (painting, cooking, horse-riding, etc.) and rock-climbing sessions to combat excessive weight gain… all with the aim of bringing them to the threshold of a viable professional project. Each child must verbalise his or her own path. Mbappé makes no secret of the fact that these young people, who are involved in a wide range of cultural outings, residentials and early-learning activities, recount the player's own childhood. His mother, Fayza, had six siblings, his father, Wilfried, three, and most of them were and still are very close. As the very first child from this large sibling group, Kylian was the object of everyone's exclusive attention from birth.
Without football having anything to do with it. The player himself claims to have had "the best possible upbringing": and this can be clearly measured by the support he gets from those closest to him. “When his mother took him back to Clairefontaine [French football's elite training centre] at the end of the weekend, she would make a detour via the Val-de-Marne, where I lived at the time,” explains one of his aunts. “I'm an English teacher, my husband teaches maths: we'd give him two hours of lessons each and he'd leave again.” The whole thing was enhanced by a culture of mutual aid that went beyond the family framework and was very much alive in Bondy, the Parisian suburb where the child king of football grew up: “You help a neighbour's son with his physics and chemistry homework, and his father puts up your shelves,” she concludes.
When asked about his childhood, the player hesitates a little. Someone close to him had warned us: “He’s grown up under the public eye since his debut in Monaco [at a professional level] when he was 16. If we also talk about the child he was, what does he have left?” He has however recently started discussing it a little more willingly. “I have a lot of teachers in my family, I think that's where the idea [for Inspired by KM] came from. We do the best we can. There's a dreamy, innocent side to children that takes me back to what I was, not so long ago. [He smiles] I mean, it's a long time ago without being long ago, in fact. When you play football, you have to keep something like that. You can't think like an adult. When I get up in the morning to go to training, I don't go to work. I don't go to get a salary. The day that’s no longer the case, I promise you, is the day it’s all over. I saw Gianluigi Buffon [Italian goalkeeper, 176 caps] arrive at PSG when he was 40. He was the opposite of the guy who came in to get a last little contract: he had passion from morning to night and you could even see that when he had a conversation with the car park attendant. He loved talking to people, Buffon paid attention to everyone. A simple guy. But the greatest guys are often the simplest.”