1. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco
The picture says it all: a 13-year-old kid giving a "V for Victory" gesture standing next to his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo. Except this picture is unique: the kid is Kylian Mbappe, and he could be lining up alongside Ronaldo next season if reports are true that Real Madrid is ready to break the world-record transfer fee for this most exciting of stars.
Mbappe has it all–pace to burn, coolness in front of goal, tactical smarts and dribbling ability–but he is also level-headed about the fuss that his breakout season has generated. He is surrounded by a supportive family unit, and after scoring 24 goals in 24 starts this season, he has refused to get carried away by comparison to the likes of Thierry Henry and, indeed, Ronaldo.
Mbappe was born in Paris but came through the academy at Clairefontaine before moving to Monaco. He scored five goals for France's U-19s, including in the semifinal and final, as it won the European Championship last summer. His season started slowly at Monaco but burst into life around winter. Hat tricks against Rennes and Metz earned a first Champions League start away from home against Manchester City, who could not handle his pace.
He scored three goals in those two games against City, coming during a spell of 10 goals in nine games. He made his senior France debut against Luxembourg in March, and looks set to cap his first senior season as a pro by winning the Ligue 1 title. What happens next is up to him. All of France wants him to stay at Monaco for one more season, and the club has reportedly already turned down a huge offer from Manchester United. There will be a point at which Monaco can’t say no. Will Real Madrid reach it this summer?
What they're saying:
“We never talk about players' brains and that annoys me. When I watch Mbappe dribble, he is thinking. He thinks when he plays, and that for me is the most important thing in a player. He thinks. He uses his brain. Yes, he is quick, but he is thinking, and that is the sign of a kid who can go a long way in the game.”
– Thierry Henry, former Monaco and France forward