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Kylian Mbappe is setting the world alight at 18… but what were Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Co doing at his age?

Kylian Mbappe has been impressive for Monaco this season – he is just 18 At the same age, Cristiano Ronaldo made a big-money move to Manchester, Lionel Messi was in Barcelona first-team while Neymar was still at Santos and Zlatan Ibrahimovic hadn’t yet hit the heights and was playing for Malmo.

If the world hadn’t already sat up and noticed Kylian Mbappe, they have now. At the tender age of 18, the Monaco talent is firing himself to superstardom.
Wednesday night was just the latest man-of-the-match performance from the Frenchman, as he scored twice to ensure Monaco beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2.
This season he has 19 goals, and is only set to improve as he gets older… but where were some of the other best players in the world when they were just 18?

Cristiano Ronaldo

When Ronaldo turned 18, he was impressing in the Portuguese top division with boyhood club Sporting Lisbon, but his life was about to change forever.
After an initial meeting with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal’s training ground, Sir Alex Ferguson set his sights on the winger and he became the world’s most expensive teenager when he moved to Manchester United in the summer of 2003.
Ferguson described Ronaldo as ‘one of the most exciting young players I have ever seen’, and he cost United £12m, going on to wear the No 7 shirt at Old Trafford.

Lionel Messi

In my entire life I have never seen a player of such quality and personality at such a young age, particularly wearing the heavy shirt of one of the world’s great clubs.’
The words of Fabio Capello, speaking about an 18-year-old Lionel Messi in his breakthrough season. The Argentinian signed his first senior contract on the day he became an adult, with a buyout clause reported to be €150million (£127m).
Messi had come through the La Masia academy at Barcelona, and 18 was the age he made his mark on the first-team, starting on the right wing as part of an attacking trio with Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. He scored eight goals in 25 appearances.

Neymar

At Mbappe’s age, Neymar was still plying his trade in Brazil, a few years before his big-money move to Barcelona. Santos was the club at which he came through the ranks, graduating from the academy in 2009.
In his first season Neymar netted 14 goals and just after turning 18 he returned 42 goals in a mammoth 60-game season. That year, still a teenager with the world at his feet, he was voted the third best player in South America behind Andres D’Alessandro and Juan Sebastian Veron.
When he was 18, Santos also rejected bids from West Ham and Chelsea for Neymar’s services… just imagine if one of those had gone through.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic was this week nominated for Player of the Year at the PFA Awards; he is still banging goals in at the ripe old age of 35… but it was a slightly slower start for the Swedish legend.
At 18, he was still playing for Malmo, two years away from his first big move to Ajax. That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of attention on him… one of his most infamous quotes came from around that time.
‘Arsene Wenger asked me to have a trial with Arsenal when I was 17,’ he said. ‘I turned it down. Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.’
At 18, he broke through to the first team and scored once in his six appearances.

 

Thierry Henry

Like his countryman Mbappe, Henry was plying his trade at Monaco when he was 18, but he was only just starting to make an impact. Admittedly, much of that is down to the heightened media coverage and the arrival of social media in the present day.
Henry signed professional forms when he was 17, and was playing out on the wing under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger before he moved to Arsenal.
Quickly Henry rose to fame and was named France’s Young Player of the Year when he was 18, helping Monaco win the title… but he wasn’t gaining quite as many headlines as Mbappe is now.

Ronaldo

Brazil legend Ronaldo had already scored 44 goals in 47 games for Cruzeiro to earn himself a move to Europe before he turned 18. When he became an adult, he was finding the net at PSV Eindhoven.
In his first season there – having already been in the Brazil World Cup squad in 1994 – he scored 30 league goals and was rated as one of the best players in the world.
Fellow Brazilian Cafu sums him up: ‘The first time I saw him play was at Cruzeiro. He was still a kid. It was in a game where he ended up scoring five goals. From that point on he showed he was truly a phenomenon.’

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