Can we just stop with this “he’s the next ‘insert former superstar’s name here’” nonsense?
Look, from 1999 through 2007 Thierry Henry netted 226 goals and assisted 67 more in 368 Premier League contests with Arsenal. In five consecutive seasons (2001-06), Henry slotted home no less than 24 goals per campaign. 24 goals per year—for five straight seasons—in arguably the toughest league in the world.
That doesn’t just happen. You don’t just pluck a player from a crowd and say, “That’s him! That’s the guy!” Yet we’re desperate to. Because we do it every single year—no matter the player, no matter the nationality. There is always a superstar to compare someone to. There is always a superstar we’re hoping to recreate. Or duplicate. It’s never-ending.
In all, Henry tallied 352 goals and assisted 136 others across 743 league matches between Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls. He was responsible for a further 62 scores (50G, 12A) across 112 Champions League matches. That means in roughly 66 percent of league matches, Henry provided in one way or another. That means in roughly 55 percent of UCL matches, he did the same.
Quick, what’s one thing Kylian Mbappé, Anthony Martial and Thierry Henry have in common? Hey you got it—they’re all French. Excellent. Okay, name something else. Did you get there? Right again—they all play in a forward position. That’s two. Alright, one more time—can you guess? Sure enough, each of their senior careers took off at Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. In Mbappé’s case, it’s currently taking off. Which brings us here.
So, who’s the next Thierry Henry? Well if you’ve been paying attention for the past two-plus years, the answer is apparently both. Keep in mind that ahead of his transfer to Arsenal, Henry was just days shy of his 22nd birthday. Moreover, he had more than 100 senior team appearances (Monaco) in a top league beforehand.
Martial was just 19 years old when Manchester United signed him ahead of the 2015 season. He had four appearances with Lyon and a further 64 with Monaco to his name. Following his United debut, seemingly everyone and their mother made the comparison. No more than six months later, former United striker Louis Saha remarked: “When you see him, he has as much quality as Thierry Henry at this age.” And in a recent interview, former United right back Gary Neville spoke about how Martial needs to emulate the former Gunner.
Rinse and repeat with Mbappé, it appears. Except for this youngster, one could argue he’s even more raw. More so than Martial before his big move. That is of course, if you ignore the murmurs. Before his 18th birthday Mbappé broke two of Henry’s club records while suiting up for the Ligue 1 outfit. Guess what—each had to do with his age. And according to Ligue 1 voice Julien Laurens, he’s “better at 18 than Thierry Henry was at 18.” Convinced yet?
Even Arsène Wenger has noted the similarities… and he would know, right? Again, Mbappé is only 18 years old. He has just 37 senior appearances for Monaco thus far (as of Tuesday). In that time he’s amassed 11 goals and eight assists across all competitions. That’s a solid if unspectacular return from one widely regarded as another teenage phenom. For a kid his age in a league that notable, it is phenomenal—and there’s no way around it.
Which means soon, perhaps as soon as this coming summer, Mbappé could be on the move. If clubs like Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern, Real Madrid and Tottenham—among several others—are interested, it’s bound to be a big-money one. Then what—he elevates himself to the level of Thierry Henry? Well since it’s so simple…
Look, there is no denying Kylian Mbappé is extremely talented. Just as there was no denying Anthony Martial was (and still is) extremely talented ahead of his move to United. But we need to stop comparing these teenagers to all-time greats. It’s not just the pressure we put upon them before they truly develop, it’s the absurdity of it all. It’s this need, this craving for what we’ve had before. For what we’ve seen before.
Why can’t we wait and see what comes next? Nobody turns into a player like Thierry Henry (or any other superstar) overnight. Martial and Mbappé have many nights ahead of them. Let us see what comes of those.
Statistics courtesy of transfermarkt