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The stats that say Mbappé could top everyone — except Brazil’s Ronaldo

The stats that say Mbappé could top everyone — except Brazil’s Ronaldo

The stats that say Mbappé could top everyone — except Brazil’s Ronaldo
July 05
01:19 2018
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Stats of the day

The first round of World Cup knockout games featured a changing of the guard. 

There were exits for Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the two outstanding talents of their generation, now both in their thirties. Instead, the round of 16 was ignited by a player at the other end of his career: France’s Kylian Mbappé. The 19-year-old ingénu tore through an aged Argentine defence to score twice and win a penalty for Les Bleus in a thrilling 4-3 win. 

Just how good is Mbappé? To find out, we analysed the goalscoring performances of teenage players in top competitions going back three decades. This includes; the “big five” European leagues of Spain, Germany, England, Italy and France; the Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club tournament; and competitive senior internationals. 

Kylian Mbappé in action against Argentina in the round of 16 © Getty Images

We rate the Paris Saint-Germain striker as the very best goalscorer there has been before reaching the age of 20. Mbappé has racked up 1,657 top-level minutes in his short career to date, scoring 0.69 goals per game — a statistic that does not include penalties.

Among players who also managed more than 1,000 minutes of elite football during their teenage years are Lionel Messi (0.54 goals per game), Spain’s Raúl (0.5) and England’s Wayne Rooney (0.4). Cristiano Ronaldo comes in at 0.3, though it is worth noting he was converted from a winger to an out-and-out striker over time. 

However, young starlets often begin their football careers outside Europe’s biggest leagues, gaining experience in lesser competitions before transferring to one of the continent’s major club teams where standards are higher.

To take this into account, we broadened the analysis to include top-tier games in other leagues, such as the Dutch Eredivisie, Portugal’s Primeira Liga and top divisions across South America. Under this measure, Mbappé slips behind the Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who managed a scoring rate of 0.84 during his two seasons at PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, before going on to star for Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and leading Brazil to World Cup victory in 2002.

This broader analysis features an eclectic mix of players that tend to fall into two categories. The first group, such as France’s Thierry Henry and Karim Benzema, Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Sergio Agüero, continued on their trajectory towards elite status. The second group features cautionary tales of relatively unfulfilled potential, such as Spain’s Bojan Krkic and Brazil’s Alexandre Pato.

Mbappé is a greater star than almost all that have come before. The question is whether he will continue to shine brightly or fade quickly.

Match of the day

England won a penalty shoot out in a major tournament for the first time since 1996, beating Colombia to reach the quarter finals.

The team is overcoming old habits. For the most part, they continued to play a short passing and attacking style, rather than retreating into dogged defence as they have in past knockout matches. 

Despite conceding an injury time equaliser, and even falling behind in the shootout, England, somehow, contrived a way to win. A superb save from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and nerveless final spot kick from midfielder Eric Dier swung the tie. 

Sweden await as opponents on Saturday. It has been more than two decades since either side made a World Cup semi-final. For both countries, a rare prize is within reach.

Stories you may have missed

Belgium beat Japan in one of the most thrilling games of the first knockout round, mounting a dramatic late comeback to win 3-2. In a prescient column before the match, the FT’s Simon Kuper explained why the country will never have a better chance of winning a World Cup. “Unlike the great, gritty 1980s’ Devils, this vintage plays gorgeous football. That is partly because the players can find each other blindfolded by now, and partly because [manager Roberto] Martinez has fielded all his creators . . . In the modern Spanish tradition, Martinez believes that if you score two, his team will score three.”

Robert Shrimsley’s weekend column opined on the joys of overdosing on football in the opening two weeks of the World Cup. But he warns: “Then we hit the second fortnight and suddenly normality resumes. Two or three days may pass without a game. The withdrawal symptoms are terrible. What the hell is this? What am I supposed to do with my evenings? By the final week, the third-place play-off seems like a major draw even for those of us who can ordinarily easily go a week without watching a game.” No need to worry just yet. The quarter finals start on Friday.

World Cup Extra will be appearing each Wednesday and Friday morning. Find us on ft.com/worldcup2018 or follow World Cup 2018 on MyFT. Next edition: Friday July 6.

If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when World Cup 2018 stories are published, just click the button “add to MyFT”, which appears at the top of this page. You can find World Cup Extra on ft.com/worldcup2018 or follow World Cup 2018 on MyFT



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