During Cristiano Ronaldo’s quicksilver rise at Manchester United and with the Portugal national team — which was highlighted by his inclusion in the 2004 UEFA Team of the Year at the tender age of 19 — perhaps no quote better illustrated the winger’s otherworldly talent than the praise heaped on him by United’s golden No. 7, George Best: “There have been a few players described as the new George Best over the years,” he said, “but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me.”
On Tuesday, France Football published an interview with Antoine Griezmann in which the Atletico Madrid striker compared his French compatriot Kylian Mbappé to a young Ronaldo, and you can’t help but think the Juventus forward — despite his insatiable desire to remain the world’s best — would take the juxtaposition in a similarly favorable light.
“Kylian reminds me of Cristiano when he was in Manchester,” Griezmann said. “Cristiano was the guy out wide, doing a lot of dribbling and occasionally scoring. He was not looking for goals, though. When Kylian does what Cristiano did in Madrid, thinking only about scoring, then he will do the same. He will be scoring 50 goals per season.
“In front of goal in training, Kylian is not all that. I tease him often — I ask him how he manages to score so many goals. When we do finishing drills, he never wins. As soon as he changes that, though, he will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Griezmann, eight years Mbappé’s senior, is obviously replying with tongue in cheek here, at least to some degree. If Mbappé is not yet a force to be reckoned with despite putting himself, statistically speaking, alongside Pelé with regards to a teenager’s performance at the World Cup, then we can’t imagine what quantifies as “a force” in Griezmann’s mind.
And at this point, Pelé is really the only name that can stand alongside Mbappé’s.
To continue the Ronaldo-Mbappé comparison, one only needs to look at the players’ performances in European competition to understand what a phenomenon Mbappé is.
Between the ages of 17 and 21, Ronaldo made 21 appearances in the Champions League/Europa League, totaling 1,449 minutes of continental competition. He scored zero goals and tallied four assists.
Cristiano Ronaldo (age 17) vs. Partizan in the Europa League
Between the ages of 16 and 19, Mbappé’s made 20 appearances in the Champions League/Europa League, totaling 1,394 minutes of play. He’s scored 12 goals and added five assists. The six goals he scored during the 2016-17 UCL campaign — all in the knockout rounds against the likes of Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus — will form the basis for a Becoming Zlatan-esque documentary in a matter of years.
Kylian Mbappé (age 16) vs. Tottenham in the Europa League
The comparison between the young players at the international level is eerily similar, however. Between 2003 and 2005 — Ronaldo’s first three years with the senior setup — Ronaldo scored nine goals in 29 appearances, including two goals and two assists during his masterful Euro 2004 campaign.
Mbappé has played for Les Bleus for two years (2017 and 2018), scoring nine goals in 24 appearances, including the four goals he scored at the World Cup.
We all know how much further Mbappé has to go to match Ronaldo. It was only four seasons after arriving at United that CR7 claimed his first European Golden Shoe while scoring 42 goals in 49 appearances (he was 23 at that point). And then we have the small matter of five Ballon d’Or awards, five Champions League titles and five league crowns from the two most difficult domestic competitions on the planet. (Although we can safely say that Ronaldo will never match Mbappé’s World Cup.)