World Cup | France team: What if Kylian Mbappé had become a good header?

You had to have a lot of imagination to foresee that. On Tuesday, a central hinge which culminates at almost 4 meters high (1.98m and 1.85m) was dominated by a player that no one imagined dominating in the air. Kylian Mbappé, from the top of his 78 meter, took the best of the Souttar-Rowles pair to open his counter in this World Cup with an uncrossed header which hit the post before returning. A rarity.

In career, the French prodigy has already scored 246 goals (217 with the club, 29 with the Blues). For only… ten headed. The ratio challenges and brings him even closer to Thierry Henry, an exceptional striker everywhere else but frankly disappointing in the air.

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I don’t know why, but that, the head game, I don’t have. Even if I’m all alone, if the ball is put on my head, I don’t have the trick… […] Arsène Wenger always told me: ‘Work on your strong points, because they are what made you.’ they don’t know how to do. And afterwards, they are lost“, laughed Henry in 2005 with L’Equipe. Obviously, Mbappé has chosen another path.

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Where Henry had learned to live with this limit, the Frenchman wants to go beyond it. The first evidence of his progress in the drill came last autumn, when he scored three times this way, including once with the Blues with a magnificent header from a perfectly timed jump against Kazakhstan (8-0).

Afterwards, he was almost laughing at this success in the exercise: “Yesterday I scored with a header in training, with my neck warmer, I yelled ‘it’s a stroke of fate’, I don’t have a great heading game, but I eliminated and it’s starting to work out what i want to become“What he wants to become, precisely, is the whole question.

His shortcomings in the aerial game, however, were not obvious when he arrived in French football with lightning speed. On the season of revelation, he scored 4 goals in six months from the head. Since then, with PSG, it’s 4 goals in six seasons, or almost. This slowdown is explained by movements much more analyzed by his opponents but also by a form of apprehension in the air.

Kylian Mbappé (PSG) scores with a header with the Blues against Kazakhstan

Credit: Imago

Apprehension in the face of the aerial duel?

As Le Parisien explained, Mbappé has long had a certain reluctance in the field after two concussions. First against Christophe Kerbrat in August 2016 then against Anthony Lopes in 2018. But the specific work of the PSG striker tends to make this restraint disappear.

Still, imagining Mbappé as a “target man” is a fantasy. Facing Benfica in the Champions League, he had experienced an ordeal against Antonio Silva and Nicolas Otamendi. In L1, he tends to run away from duels rather than rubbing shoulders with opposing sides. It is only in front of the goal that he tries his luck, with still a lot of waste.

Against Monaco (1-1), for example, he had wasted two caviars from Achraf Hakimi with his bad timing, the main flaw in his heading game. The latter is probably explained by a desynchronization between the jump and the moment when hitting the ball: where his abs should allow him to stay in the air to smash the ball, he very often takes it having already trained his descent .

In short, there is better but it is not yet Cristiano Ronaldo. Still, this new weapon, imperfect but in progress, is one more arrow in the already very full bow of the French prodigy. It was ultimately Didier Deschamps who best summed up the affair after his but against Australia: “If he adds headers…“.

Kylian Mbappé, head scorer against Australia

Credit: Getty Images

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