PARIS, France, Sep 6 – Kylian Mbappe is France’s golden boy, a sporting icon in his country at the age of still just 23 and someone who can usually do no wrong. But the Paris Saint-Germain striker was facing criticism on Tuesday for a rare faux pas.
The World Cup-winning striker has always appeared mature beyond his years, at ease speaking to the media even when still a teenager breaking through at Monaco.
He comes across as intelligent, thoughtful and funny in interviews and already speaks fluent English and Spanish.
Yet on Monday he slipped up.
Mbappe burst out laughing along with his coach Christophe Galtier in a press conference when a question was put to them about PSG’s decision to travel by private jet to a game in the western city of Nantes.
That journey, a modest 380 kilometres (240 miles) from Paris, has been met with a backlash in France, with the choice of travel coming under increased scrutiny over the carbon footprint.
The head of the country’s state-owned railway company took to Twitter to point out that Nantes is just a two-hour journey on the high-speed TGV.
The topic was bound to come up as Mbappe and Galtier faced questions ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Italian giants Juventus.
Galtier ironically replied that PSG had asked their travel organisers if they could travel to games “by sand-yacht”.
“I have no thoughts,” added Mbappe when asked for his view.
“The reaction of Christophe Galtier and Kylian Mbappe shows how detached they are from climate change issues,” said Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s Minister for Energy Transition, on the news channel Cnews.
Contacted by AFP, Mbappe’s entourage did not offer a comment.
– ‘Blow to his image’ –
Such a misstep in the media is unusual for Mbappe, a player with a carefully crafted image and 75 million followers on Instagram, who has his own charitable foundation, ‘Inspired by KM’, and who speaks out against racism in football.
“He was a bit caught out by the question. It is a devastating blow to his image,” Frank Hocquemiller, an agent for several French international footballers, told AFP.
“Footballers need to understand that if you are a role model, or in his case an icon, everything carries great importance,” added Hocquemiller, the co-founder of image consultants VIP Consulting and of the Hat Trick Management agency.
“You can’t have 200 million followers and advertising contracts worth millions of euros, and then expect what you say not to have any resonance.”
Mbappe did make headlines for the wrong reasons earlier this year, when he boycotted a marketing event for the French Football Federation due to a row over the use of his image rights with the France team.
At the time, the player’s entourage said they simply wanted to better choose which brands he was being associated with.
His attitude on the pitch was also called into question at the start of this season, as he failed to hide his frustration when Neymar took a penalty in a game against Montpellier that Mbappe clearly felt should have been his.
Now, by displaying his detachment from environmental issues, Mbappe appears to have squandered an opportunity to come across as an “excellent ambassador” for promoting greener travel, according to French climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte.
“For a long time I have been saying how good it would be if someone like Mbappe could show that you can pick up your litter, or travel by bike,” she told France Inter radio.
“What he says, what he does, these things have an influence far beyond what scientists might say or do, because he inspires so many people.”
Nevertheless, Hocquemiller said Mbappe’s response should be seen as nothing more than a youthful indiscretion.
“It is all about gaining experience. He is really quite mature for his age and we have this impression that he is never going to make a mistake, but he is like everyone else,” Hocquemiller said.
“When he speaks he needs to understand the weight his words carry and how they are interpreted.”