Amaze. Inspire. Surprise. You’ll be hearing those words a lot in the coming weeks—together, they cut to the heart of why we love sports in the first place. So in the days leading up to the naming of SI’s Sportsperson we’ll be looking back and shining a light on the athletes, moments and teams (and one horse) who did one—or all—of those things in 2018. There can be only one Sportsperson. But it has been a year full of deserving candidates.
It was perhaps the most exhilarating moment of World Cup 2018. Kylian Mbappé, the 19-year-old French forward sensation, erased his Argentine defenders with an insouciant display of skill and speed on the ball that all they could do to stop him was bring him down for a penalty in their Round of 16 game.
Mbappé would go on to score two goals in the 4-3 French victory and add another in France’s 4-2 win in the final against Croatia, becoming the first teenager to score in a men’s World Cup final since Pelé. By the end of 2018, it seemed entirely possible that Mbappé might leapfrog Neymar, his PSG teammate, and assume the role as the rightful heir to the decade-long rule in the men’s game of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. And, unlike those three players, the young Frenchman can already say he has won a World Cup.
Yet the most inspirational aspect of Mbappé’s year was what took place after Russia 2018. Mbappé donated the entirety of his earnings from the World Cup—around $500,000—to the charity Premiers de Cordee, which gives free sports instruction to disabled and hospitalized children in France. While it’s true that the main income sources for men’s soccer players are their club salaries and endorsement deals, Mbappé’s gesture was a welcome one, especially from a teenager who will influence the next generation of star athletes. Another program that has caught on in the soccer world is Common Goal, in which players donate 1% of their annual income to charity. The first prominent player to take part in Common Goal was Juan Mata of Manchester United and Spain. Since then, dozens of players around the world have joined Common Goal, including the U.S.’s Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
For his part, Mbappé, who hails from the suburbs of Paris, is just at the start of his career. The potential—of his play, of his generosity—is limitless.