Kylian Mbappé: The French football star stands by his origins in the Parisian banlieue

Kylian Mbappé: The French football star stands by his origins in the Parisian banlieue

Kylian Mbappé: The French football star stands by his origins in the Parisian banlieue

Rundown blocks of flats, crime, social decay: France's football star Kylian Mbappé grew up in the Parisian suburbs. He made his way out. He has a special relationship to his place of origin

Bondy doesn't have a particularly good reputation, admittedly. During the serious suburban riots of 2005, the satellite town northeast of Paris was a hotspot. Today, the name of the city simply stands for Banlieue, not least because of a well-known “Bondy blog”. Their cliché is satisfied here: gray residential towers, in the shadow of which dealers keep watch, offer just a clear view of the maze of bridges at the A3 motorway junction. Hence the saying on a windowless ten-story facade: "Love your dream" stands for the mural of a sporting goods manufacturer. It's the dream of escape. A young boy in a green jersey from local club AS Bondy sleeps on a football as a pillow. He dreams of wearing the blue jersey for the French national team. Number: 10. Name: Kylian Mbappe.

"Would you like a shirt with his signature?" asks a voice on the sidewalk. "My son went to school with Kylian, he could arrange that." Really? The gentleman with a hood and a face mask assures: "I know that's what everyone says here. But the signature would be real.” Small attempt at distraction: What does the resident of Mbappé think? "Kyky is one of us, and someone who made it," says the man. "I always say: If you want to make it somewhere, then you have to get out of here. Like Kylian. He's been off and on since he was a teenager. But his bodice, do you want that? "

A hero in Bondy: French footballer Kylian Mbappé

That's right, Mbappé was an early bloomer. At AS Bondy, he only played until he was 15. When he was not yet 14, the then Real Madrid coach, Zinedine Zidane, once invited him to Spain. Arriving at the airport in the capital, the former French world champion asked him to sit in the next seat in the car. Before getting into the gleaming sports car, Kylian asked coyly, "Should I take off my shoes?"

His parents didn't want their son to move to Spain. Father Wilfried, a soccer coach from Cameroon, and his mother Fayza, a top handball player with Algerian roots, demanded that Kylian finish school in Bondy first. The model student did this in his own way: he passed his Abitur at the age of 17. In his spare time he had already played for AS Monaco in the first French league.

At 18 he signed with Paris Saint-Germain. With his current club he became top scorer and footballer of the year, with the "Bleus" world champion. Your number 10 has long been number one in France, in a figurative sense. The best European clubs are fighting for world star Mbappé. But don't worry: "Kylian keeps a cool head." That's not what Zidane says. That's what a woman who needs to know says: Céline Bognini was the footballer's former music teacher in Bondy. Kylian once learned the flute from her. "He played superbly. He was the only one in the choir who would pay close attention when I was singing, so he would learn faster.”

Then the Italian launches a series of adjectives about Mbappé's character: he is bright, highly intelligent, curious, agile, authentic. And respectful, sincere, hardworking, easy-going. And he has a lot of humor too. He owes much of this to his parents, says Bognini. They never let their three sons out of their sight, but raised them with strong roots and values. Then the music teacher says a strong sentence herself: "If Mbappé knows what he wants today, it's also because he knows where he comes from."

Where he comes from: The young star made that clear last year in an article for the online platform "The Players' Tribune", dedicated to "the children of Bondy, the children of the Paris Agglo, the children of the suburbs". To them he writes: “We are dreamers. I think we were born that way. Maybe because dreaming doesn't cost anything.” Then he turns to the others: “People from outside speak badly about the suburbs. But if you're not from there, you can't understand what the word means.” Mbappé explains that crime is everywhere, as are conflicts and emergencies. "But the fact of the matter is that as a little boy I saw myself how the toughest guys carried my grandmother's shopping bags home."

He tells us out-of-towners what to do when a group of 15 boys come towards you on the pavement. run away? No, greet everyone. emphasis on all. Even if you only know one, you exchange a "fist bump" with all 15, a fist-to-fist greeting, writes Mbappé. "If you only greet the one you know, the 14 others will never forget you. Then they will know what kind of person you are.” Needless to say, a bad person.

From the Paris suburbs to the national team: Kylian Mbappé is a role model for many

This is how the suburbs work. In the suburban department of Seine-Saint-Denis with the administrative number 93 – “neuf-trois” for locals – it is about two things: solidarity and honor. "We played for a plastic trophy for two euros as if it were a matter of life or death," he recalls. That and the hard lessons of banlieue life would have taught him more than the most expensive football academy, writes Mbappé, signing his contribution "Kylian from Bondy".

Yes, life is different in Bondy. The butcher shops are labeled "halal", the shops "exotic". There are also a few zones with former workers' cottages where the "French" live. That's what the residents of the dilapidated residential towers call the whites. One of them, Mayor Stephen Hervé, admits in his ugly concrete town hall that he only met the Mbappé family once in person. You live separately here. Not necessarily ethnically, but in terms of wealth. If you ask the head of 54,000 inhabitants about the "Prince of Bondy" (according to the local media), he only has a few platitudes ready. Mbappé, who comes from an intact family and an ambitious sports club, is a model for the youth of the community. But not the only one! Bondy has already produced other football cracks like Jonathan Ikoné or William Saliba, emphasizes Hervé.

Kylian Mbappé: A soccer star from the Parisian banlieu of Bondy

Mbappé keeps his distance from politics. After the death of George Floyd in the USA, he tweeted – and as always himself, without the help of a PR agency – the American slogan: “The police with us, not against us.” When the world star occasionally goes to Bondy comes, he meets no local dignitaries. When he celebrated the "Bleus" world championship title in Bondy in 2018, thousands of mostly young people came to the Stade Léo-Lagrange, where Mbappé scored his first goals. Nobody said at the celebration that he had invited 25 students from the Jean-Renoir School to two World Cup games, even though everyone in Bondy knows it.

Today, the Léo-Lagrange stadium looks rather unkempt. On the second field with artificial turf, U16 boys trundle in for soccer training after work. They greet each other fist-to-fist, wordlessly, but nobody is forgotten, not even the unknown visitor. Everyone is the same here, nobody has the same skin colour. But a personal opinion. "I don't particularly like his style," says one of the youngsters gruffly about the keyword Mbappé. And: the others agree if you ask questions. However, they have to look for the reasons together like an excuse: "He dances too much." Or: "He keeps the ball too long."

Little busybodies? A young man from Maghreb interjects: “You know, the best of them all isn't Kylian. The best is Marco Verratti.” He pronounces the name of the Italian midfielder from Paris Saint-Germain as “Verratschi”. banlieue accent. The others nod: Verratschi is the best.

Pretending that you don't like Mbappé: that's also a suburban reflex. A stranger is first misled before he is bestowed with the warmest of hospitality. Maybe these guys are just against the media exaggeration of their ex-buddies Mbappé to the football god.

Because the PSG striker is of course the greatest for them. The most successful, one who has realized his dream, who drives a Ferrari (Verratti only a Bentley). But at the same time, Mbappé is also one of them. Even if he's better at magic with the ball and scoring more unexpected goals: Here's Mbappé first of all Kylian, the little boy from the block of flats overlooking the soccer field. Someone like her, who knows and has internalized the banlieue codes – respect and honor, playfulness and intuition. With whims perhaps, but without airs and graces.

Still someone from the village: soccer star Kylian Mbappé keeps in touch with his origins in Bondy

Anyone who comes from Bondy, from the bottom of French society, doesn't forget his family, even if he's a multi-millionaire . For them he remains one from the "Bled", the village. One who greets everyone.

Even the only youngster who comes to training without sportswear is unimpressed by Mbappé, although he would like to be like him. 16-year-old Millésime wants to say goodbye to his buddies: he has been hired by Paris FC. This isn't Parisian giants PSG yet, but it's a start for a professional career. Millésime counts: A brother plays in Toulouse, a cousin in Bordeaux, one even in Monaco. As Mbappé once did.

Millésime sees his future in England. He says so matter-of-factly. The young Franco-Congolese doesn't look like the dreamer of mural painting. But now he's leaving, since the training starts. Without warming up, without long theory. The under-16s play like the big ones, shoot like 20-year-olds.

Trainer Tonio Riccardi lets them play. "Use the room!" he yells from time to time, that's all it takes. "It's crazy how these guys control the ball," he marvels. "They can do everything." Was that the same with Mbappé? "Of course," the coach recalls. “Kylian was rather weak at first, but very technical. And he was simply better, faster, more often on the ball. He ran by himself. You just had to give him something to do.”

Tonio, as everyone here calls him, was born and raised in Bondy and has formed countless boys here, but he doesn't pose as 'Mbappé's first coach'. "Most important to him were his parents," he says. "They still advise him today, even though his father rarely appears in public and avoids the media. But it was he who gave Kylian the tools he needed, both on the football field and on Bondy's hard pavement."

Sure - but Mbappé also has something you don't learn from anyone. "Kylian decided entire games on his own," Riccardi agrees: "Sometimes it was as if he had decided to win the game. And then his team won too.” After a brief instruction on the pitch, he adds: “As a coach, you only meet a player like that once every 30 years.” At best.