Trevor Steven: Kylian Mbappe has emerged as the heir to Messi and Ronaldo
Kylian Mbappe’s stunning individual goal in Tuesday’s Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid did a lot of things all at once.
For PSG, it made a big difference to their chances of winning this last 16 tie. For Mbappe, meanwhile, that goal lifted his standing in the game and his confidence even higher.
It also revived the question: now that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are on the wane, who is the best footballer in the world?
Messi and Ronaldo are still capable, of course, but as they have got older they have had to become different versions of themselves; able to get through 90 minutes but still grab the headlines.
Aged 34 and 37 respectively, there is no chance either’s output is going anything but down, as their goalscoring returns this season show.
There are lots of good players but the best footballer in the world has to be someone who makes opponents uneasy before they have set foot on the pitch.
They have to possess star quality. Mbappe has that, and we can see that he knows it.
His talents are extreme. Physically, his speed is pretty much unmatched and, at 23, he still has energy to burn. Technically, he is a clinical finisher, as his 22 goals already this season show.
But his mentality is one of the things that sets him apart. Some players shrink when surrounded by world class stars, as he is by Messi, Neymar and Angel di Maria at PSG. Not Mbappe.
He has the combination of self-belief and ambition to be the No1 which – Erling Haaland aside – very few others have.
Mohamed Salah also deserves to be part of the conversation and is definitely in the top five.
He has created a niche for himself with a very specific role at Liverpool that is far more effective than he was for Egypt at the recent Africa Cup of Nations and he has got it down to a fine art.
Defenders might know what Salah is going to do but often can’t stop him getting into scoring positions because of the speed of his feet and his exceptional balance.
Kevin De Bruyne is also in that very top bracket, despite not being able to boast the same goal stats as some of his peers.
But he has a gift for finding space that is Messi-like and it’s not all about topping the scoring charts. After all, Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or.
Someone who I think also belongs among the elite is De Bruyne’s Manchester City team-mate Bernardo Silva.
He isn’t usually mentioned in these discussions, partly because he has a low profile, but he is playing as well as I have ever seen him at the moment.
In terms of raw talent, though, the two names that every chairman of a big club has daydreamed about signing are Mbappe and Haaland.
Haaland too is brimming with confidence but is yet to be put under the brightest spotlight and we won’t see that until he leaves Borussia Dortmund.
Mbappe on the other hand has shown that he is happy competing alongside and up against the very best in the world.
He has helped PSG to a Champions League final and won a World Cup with France. It would be no surprise if he won the Golden Boot in Qatar this year.
As he showed again on Tuesday, he is making the difference in big matches against top teams, and that’s what separated Messi and Ronaldo from the rest for years.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63