Kylian Mbappé: 'This dressing room helps me grow'
The Paris Saint-Germain striker spoke at length to PSGTV about his performances, how he deals with pressure and his development as a player.
Kylian, you arrived at Paris Saint-Germain just after turning 18, and since then, what an evolution! How do you view your progress?
"When I arrived here, I was 18 years old, so I was still developing as a player. So it was obvious that I was going to change either positively or negatively, but I didn't know that yet. Afterwards, it's clear that when you come into this dressing room, it helps you grow. I was with players who had won everything, players who had experienced everything in their careers, players with a lot of experience. I've had different coaches, so I've learned different philosophies too, because they all had a completely different way of looking at football. So, when you are a player, it allows you to have lots of strings to your bow. Then, I think I have also become more mature as a player, and I have improved with age. I'm a completely different player, much more mature, even if I think I still have to improve in some aspects. But I think I have understood the importance, in football and at Paris-Saint-Germain, of paying attention to every detail of your game."
You talk a lot about your relationship with ego and ambition. Is it when there are certain comments about you that it is an additional motivation to try to answer them?
"Yes, of course. Sometimes it's ego, sometimes not. Because as a player, we are in our bubble, we are locked in a world in which we play every three days, and finally you live your pursuit of performance without really analysing all aspects of your game. So criticism is sometimes beneficial, because it's not always there to hurt, but sometimes it's there to give you reminders or warnings, and it's also good to take it into account. I do think that you shouldn't take it personally because it's not personal. It's not against me personally. Those who criticise are people who judge a player's performance at that time, it's something normal and even more so when you play for Paris-Saint-Germain. It's the most watched club in the country, one of the most watched in the world, so criticism is legitimate. People talk about you every day, and obviously we're not going to only say nice things, that's part of the game."
Pressure is also part of the game. And we almost get the feeling, watching you play, that it’s a driving force for you...
"Yes, I think I need it. I need to feel the challenge. It's always been like that and I've always wanted to have responsibilities on my shoulders, to feel the pressure, even if it means disappointing people sometimes. That's part of the learning process. I've never hidden away from it. I think it's part of the adrenaline, too. We play to take part in pressure matches, matches that everyone watches. I take the pressure positively and I like it, so I have no problem with it. Quite the opposite, I think it also pushes me not to be complacent and to be as consistent as possible for my team."
You talk about the matches that everyone watches and analyses. Is it also important for you to analyse your opponents?
"Always. We are always analysing, it's important. Of course I benefit from it. But it's also important for the whole team. From one team to another, you always have to adapt, even if I think we are the type of team that is capable of imposing our style. We have the quality to impose ourselves very quickly on the game. And I think that's what we want to establish. Because it takes a lot of effort to adapt to the opponent, each of whom has a particularity, a philosophy of play which is different."
It seems that you have managed to find the weaknesses in all the opponents you've faced, since you have scored against all the teams in the league... Except Paris!
"That's true (laughs)! It's also because I've found the motivation and I've been helped a lot. Today, in a team where the players who play with me are Messi, Neymar and Di Maria, it's obviously easier, let's not kid ourselves. It's true that scoring against all the teams was not easy, but I don't count that. I'm just thinking about making my mark in each match and helping my team. After that, if I score against all the teams, it means that we win, and that's the thing I remember."
In practical terms, what happens on the pitch when you go on the counter? Do you look for a teammate, to get in behind, or do you think about the pattern of play?
"I'd say that it's really the game that dictates my choice. For example, sometimes space becomes available that we haven't necessarily worked on in training, something that we haven't seen from our opponents, because the opponents play differently when they play against us than they do the rest of the time in the league. That is instinct. You see that space is opening up, you know what the player is likely to do, you make a run to link up play or even to open up space. When you see, for example, the goals that Messi has scored, it is often Hakimi who frees the space for him. He doesn't touch the ball but he takes a player away from you, which allows him to get in and score on his strong foot. So it's really about allowing each other to create something thanks to movement. And trying to be unpredictable too. Because if the ball doesn't go to me, it will go to someone else. These are the habits that we try to work on, that we try to create in order to be as well versed as possible."
How do you manage to create these patterns? Is it natural or does it have to be worked on?
"I think it's a mix of both. Adaptation is quicker when the personal bond is strong, because it helps on the pitch, you have fewer worries, fewer fears. But it's normal that new players arrive with confidence, with patterns that they have worked on. Even a player like Messi played at Barcelona for 15 years, and for 15 years he did the same thing, it worked. When he comes here, it's different, so we have to let him adapt and we have to adapt to him. I think that's also something we work on in training, where we manage to create passing patterns. We also manage to create things during games, it's not necessarily only tactical work, but everything that can create a connection, to say that you know that such and such a player, when he's there, he can do this or that. Finally we get to know each other, because there is a difference compared to what we have seen on TV. We've all watched the players' matches when they arrived, but here it's different. You get to know that such and such a player likes to do this or do something else a little less. When we talk about adaptation, it's also about knowing how to analyse your teammates."
And in terms of adaptation, what role do you play? We don't really know what kind of man you are in the dressing room...
"I'm good with everyone. And I speak various languages, so that also helps the players who don't speak French perfectly. And I've been here for a long time, so I'm one of the leaders in the dressing room. I try to help everyone because I am convinced that we will need every player to win and that everyone's time will come. Today, maybe some are waiting for their opportunity, but during the season, there is always a moment when it is their time. We will need everyone. And that is also the objective, to unite people, because it is all together that we will want to win great things."
Speaking of targets, are statistics important to you?
"Of course, because that is something that stays. Although I do think that to make history, it is not only the matter. I think you have to create excitement. But the stats are also a factor. I think that when you look at the numbers, they don't lie. It sums up an impact. It sums up a certain presence, a certain consistency. But it's not just that. When you score goals, it's for your team. It's not just for you. I'm lucky here because I am in a team where I have been put in the best conditions to perform. I gave it back to the team, but the team gave it back to me too."
Isn't it harder to work on your stats when you are in a team with so many influential players?
"That' s true, it's about balance. I think that when you have great players around you, the most important thing is that they are happy because you will also benefit from them. Even if you don't score, you'll enjoy yourself and you'll manage to win titles because that's why we're here too. Of course, when you play with players like Messi or Neymar, you can't shoot 12 times from 12 times you get the ball. It's not possible. You also have to know how to give to your friends, to please them. And that's natural because these are players who will contribute, and who will help us win."
It's good that you talk about giving to your mates, because you are the leading assister in our league, and one of the best passers in the Champions League this season. Is that something you've been looking to work on more?
“No, it's something I already had, but I lost it a bit when I started to score a lot of goals. Because when you score a lot of goals, you want the goals. It's like that, it's like fruit juice, the more you drink, the more you are thirsty (laughs). You score, but you always want to score because you like that feeling. You want it to be a regular thing and maybe sometimes there's that striker's instinct to want to shoot, to want to score. I think that when you want to be a great player, a special player, when you can do both, score and assist, you shouldn't deprive yourself because not only do you please a teammate, but you also show that you can be unpredictable. Today, the advantage is that people don't know if I'm going to shoot or if I'm going to pass, whereas before people expected me to shoot."Kylian is the team's goalscorer, he'll shoot," whereas now it's much more unpredictable. It's different. That's also what we're talking about when we talk about maturity. I've grown up and I've realised that playing passes isn't going to stop me scoring goals."
So Kylian, what do you really want to achieve this season, do you have individual or team goals?
"Last year I had a great year individually, I scored more than 40 goals, I scored in the Champions League, I was the top scorer in the calendar year, but we didn't win the league. We didn't win the Champions League. So at the end, you ask yourself if it's worth scoring 50 goals if you don't win. So let's say that this time I'd prefer to score a few less, provide some assists and win the league and the Champions League. So individual goals are good, of course, but if you don't win, you're not quite fully happy. So the goal is really to win titles, that's the most important thing. At the moment, we are on the right path because we are still in the running in all the competitions. There are big matches coming up and now that's what we have to prepare for."