BONDY, France (Reuters) - Teenage French striker Kylian Mbappe has been setting the World Cup alight with his searing pace and goal-scoring prowess, marking him out as a NextGen superstar of the sport.
Back in his hometown of Bondy, on the gritty northeast outskirts of Paris, there is immense pride at his exploits, but not that much surprise — they always knew he’d make it big.
The 19-year-old, who scored twice in France’s come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Argentina, sending Les Bleus into the quarter-finals, is a well-known figure in the suburb, where he grew up playing at local club AS Bondy.
“Kylian was ahead of everybody,” recalls Jean-Marc Goue, 28, a friend of Mbappe’s older brother and a special education teacher in the neighbourhood, which has a large population of migrants from central and north Africa.
“At age five, he used to listen to his father (an AS Bondy coach) speaking in the locker rooms and his bedroom was plastered with pictures of Zidane and Ronaldo,” he said.
But the young sensation, who joined AS Monaco at the age of 14, never lost touch with his roots or let success go to his head — even after he transferred to Paris Saint-Germain in 2018 for a reported 145 million euro fee.
His father, originally from Cameroon, and his mother, a handball player from Algeria, instilled in him a drive to give back to the community, which sits between two highways amid several decayed housing projects. In France the area is often referred to dismissively by its department number — 93.
“It is fairly easy for fame and money to get to your head, but Kylian is different,” said Goue. “He knows where he comes from thanks to his family. He is a source of pride to the kids in Bondy, a role-model.”
Last month, Mbappe helped finance a trip to Russia for a group of students from a local school, College Jean Renoir.
During their 10-day trip, the 25 teenagers visited Moscow and attended the Morocco vs Portugal and France vs Denmark matches, including meeting Mbappe during the visit.
For Nassyn, a 13-year-old who was on the trip, the soccer star is living proof that “anything is possible” despite coming from a suburb that is often stigmatized because of its large migrant population and high level of unemployment.
While Mbappe is discreet about his charitable giving, and hasn’t sought to play up French media reports that he has waived his match fees at the World Cup, giving the money a charity instead, those in Bondy feel his impact.
Mickael Ichkhanian, the former groundskeeper at the Leo Lagrande stadium, where Mbappe made his debut, said the community was fortunate to have such a son, one who displays a maturity beyond his years on and off the pitch.
“The fact that he comes from the 93, which is often negatively portrayed by the media, just makes us even more proud,” he said.
Editing by Luke Baker and Matthew Mpoke Bigg