Anthony Martial, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele prove Paris is most fertile ground for future football superstars
- No one has scored more than PSG’s World Cup winner among Europe’s top leagues
- Manchester United winger shows another glimpse of ability with two goals against Chelsea
Saturday brought mixed fortunes for Anthony Martial, 22, Kylian Mbappe, 19 and Ousmane Dembele 21, three magnificent, speedy, young French wingers born and raised in Paris or its hinterland, whose combined last transfer fees totalled €400 million (HK$3.6 billion).
Martial, from Les Ulis, a tough banlieue of 22,000 which also gave the world Thierry Henry and Patrice Evra, scored twice for Manchester United at Chelsea.
Banlieues can have negative connotations – these large working-class, non–white communities have become, in some quarters, synonymous with riots and social strife, but walk through Les Ulis with a youth football coach and you see absolute respect for these pillars of the community.
Martial, who grew up in a tower block overlooking a football pitch, is highly regarded locally as a happy, polite man from a family of footballers – and not just because his transfer to United paid for five buses to transport Les Ulis’ young footballers.
Martial long cut a different picture in Manchester because he’s been unhappy at United and wanted to leave, especially after he was left out of France’s victorious World Cup winning squad. It was little surprise given the competition for places and his absence from so many recent squads.
Eleven of Martial’s 18 France appearances came within nine months of his debut three years ago. He’s not featured in any of France’s last 14 games either, but his mood is lightening and United are right to be optimistic he will sign a new contract.
In Berne last month, he stood applauding the travelling United fans for an age, as he did at Stamford Bridge on Saturday after pointing to the club badge.
It’s to Ed Woodward’s credit that he absolutely refused to entertain United selling Martial. Paul Scholes echoed the fears of many United fans last week when he said: “It scares me that these really talented players (Martial and Marcus Rashford) will be sold and be brilliant for another club. I could see that happening with Martial.”
Martial is still only 22. There are trust issues with his manager who appreciates his technical magnificence in the final third but wants him to defend more and not to lose possession as much.
United fans only want to see him starting and performing consistently. He absolutely has the talent to do so and he’s now started the last three matches, scoring three times.
Mourinho’s frustrations won’t evaporate, while Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde gets equally frustrated with his prodigious young French winger Dembele.
On Saturday night, Dembele had the small task of replacing Lionel Messi after 18 minutes as Barca took on league leaders Sevilla.
In Messi’s little time on the pitch before he broke a bone in his arm which will cause him to miss Sunday’s clasico against Real Madrid, he’d set his side on the way to a convincing victory – “put them on the right track” in the words of vanquished Sevilla coach Pablo Machin.
Dembele struggled to have the same impact. He ran at defenders at speed, but too often he lost possession, to groans from the vast crowd and pained expressions from his boss.
Dembele, who was signed from Dortmund in 2017, didn’t look like a player of the Barcelona ethos ‘take the ball, pass the ball’.
Asked about the Frenchman, Valverde gave short, sharp answers. He thinks Dembele has much to learn to before he’ll become a regular starter. Mourinho says the same of Martial, but even Cristiano Ronaldo needed to learn to be more of a team player while at Manchester United.
Dembele was bought by Barca to replace Neymar, now there are reports of a swap deal in which the Brazilian would return to Camp Nou and Dembele home to Paris, where he’d play in the same team as Kylian Mbappe. Almost all of the outstanding Parisian prospects have to leave the one-club city to kick-start their football careers and almost all the big football clubs in France and beyond have Paris-based scouts. Manchester United are one of the few giants who don’t and picked up Martial after he’d shone in the sun in Monaco.
Monaco is also where Mbappe began the rise to global superstardom. A proud son of Bondy in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris, his idol was Cristiano Ronaldo.
These three wingers are well placed to take the mantle of the world’s best footballers which Ronaldo and Messi have held as their own for a decade, though they all need luck, to listen and continue their improvement.
Mbappe is in the best form of the three, with nine goals – four in 13 spectacular minutes against Lyon – and three assists so far this season. PSG have won every game they’ve played this season and he’s even outshone Neymar.
No player in Europe’s top five leagues has scored more goals than Mbappe. And no city in the world has produced so many top footballers in recent times as Paris.
While Mbappe has had the career lift-off that his abilities warrant, from a virtual unknown to a man with 20 million Instagram followers in two years, Martial and Dembele are experiencing more problems in their journeys. But all three of these young men have the talent to follow in the footsteps of their fellow footballers from the Paris banlieues.