There is a poison chalice that media and fans can’t help but pass to any gifted young star: “The next…”
Before Michael Jordan had ever hinted at a desire to try his hand at minor league baseball, NBA observers were foisting the “next Jordan” label onto every ultra-athletic wing that entered the league. The work of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James put the moniker out to pasture, but not before its weight was heaped onto the shoulders of, among others, Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter and, of course, Harold Miner, or “Baby Jordan”.
The story is no different in soccer. For more than two decades, every talented Argentinian attacker (there have been a fair few) was hailed as “the next Maradona”. The label was affixed to Lionel Messi by the time he was in his mid-teens. Despite not joining his countryman in lifting the World Cup, Messi has done so much, so hilariously well, for so long, that he’s not only justified all expectations, he’s effectively deactivated that particular setting on the hype machine.
Similar, every brilliant young Brazilian is dreamt upon as “the next Pelé”. The latest in this lineage – which notably includes the original Ronaldo and, infamously, Freddy Adu – is Neymar. Still just 27 years of age, Neymar has put together a spectacular career and seems destined to one day retire as a legend. However, it’s exceedingly unlikely that he’ll do so as the next Pelé. That honor seems to be reserved for a Frenchman, who also happens to be Neymar’s teammate.
A combination of strength, devastating speed and quickness, dribbling ability, skill with both feet, clinical finishing, unselfishness and tactical awareness, Kylian Mbappé’s the complete a package as an attacker. What’s more, Mbappé has apparently found the very blueprint that Pelé used to construct his own cathedral.
He began his career in France’s top league, Ligue 1, with Monaco, in 2015, at age 16. His second season with the club, 2016-17, was his first breakout, as he scored 26 goals in 44 games in all competitions (domestic league, domestic cup, and Champions League), and helped Monaco to the league title. His efforts earned him Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year and the “Golden Boy”, which is awarded annually to the top under-21 player across all European leagues.
That summer, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) struck a deal to sign Mbappé for a transfer fee of €180 million, making him the most expensive teenager – and the second-most expensive player – ever. He joined the most expensive signing in the history of the sport, Neymar, who’d been pried away from Barcelona four weeks earlier, at a cost of roughly €220 million.
In a little over three seasons in Paris, he’s scored 113 goals in 155 games in all competitions, helping the club (who, it should be said, typically have a stranglehold domestically) to three straight league titles, two domestic cups and a first-ever appearance in the final of the Champions League. Personally, he’s won Ligue 1 Player of the Year, led the league in goals twice, and become the the club’s third-highest goal scorer ever.
It hadn’t been three months since his 22nd birthday.
The summer of 2018, at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, is when everything changed. In the second of France’s group games, a 1-0 win over Peru, Mbappé became the youngest French World Cup scorer, at 19 years and 183 days. Nine days later, in a 4-3 victory in the Round of 16 over Messi’s Argentina, he became the second teenager to score multiple goals in a World Cup game – joining 1958 Pelé. A couple of weeks later, he put the exclamation point on France’s 4-2 win in the World Cup Final with a beautiful 25-yard strike, and became the second teenager to score in a World Cup Final. The other? Take a guess.
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić, the inspiration behind Croatia’s unlikely run to the Final, was named the Player of the Tournament. He was a deserving recipient. At the same time, it’s tough to shake sense that Mbappé, who was named the tournament’s Best Young Player and French Player of the Year for 2018, ought have won the award.
That Mbappé has done all he’s done so quickly, and slid so seamlessly into the role of not only “global superstar”, but “consensus best post-Messi player on Earth” is nothing short of incredible.
If that all sounds like a perfect recipe for hobby idolatry, well… it is.
In the midst of the recent hobby boom, cards and collectibles of European soccer stars have gained momentum not only on the continent, but, just as importantly, found a major foothold among more moneyed and hobby-focused fans in the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia.
These days, more than ever, a truly global fan base is snapping up the cards of the biggest names in the world’s most popular sport. Alongside Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Mbappé is the current player for whom collectors have the most frenzied and insatiable appetite, with Diego Maradona and Pelé really the only other names in the top tier.
However, collecting Mbappé presents something of an interesting conundrum, as he’s technically got neither a “true rookie card” nor any certified autographed cards.
Not to fear!
Collectors looking for Mbappé cards have an impressive (though still somewhat modest) array of options from which to choose. Basically all of his 2016 and 2017 cards get the “rookie treatment” and, depending on your opinions of parallels, present anywhere from four to a couple of dozen cards to chase:
2016-17 Panini Foot #505, with Corentin Jean (#504)
The earliest Mbappé card of note is part of the Panini Foot French sticker series. Though it doesn’t technically fit the bill, this is the de facto “Mbappé rookie card”. 2016-17 sticker features Mbappé alongside then-Monaco teammate Corentin Jean.
At the time of writing, raw versions are selling for around $1,000, with 9s, PSA (pop: 262) and BGS (pop:46), pulling in between $4,000 and $5,000. This is roughly the range ($4,000-$6,000) in which numerous PSA 10s sold between December and late-January. However, a sale on February 24, 2021, for $17,050, reset the market, and another sale was recorded two days, $15,571, while another sold for a “best offer’, somewhere south of $24,999. The trajectory for BGS 9.5/10 appears similar, though data is quite sparse due to lower volume. Several can usually be found on eBay.
Interestingly, there is a fairly large number of extremely high-grade versions relative to overall population, with 137 PSA 10s, out of 675 graded by PSA, and a staggering 138 9.5s (and 13 10s!!) out just 242 graded by BGS.
Kylian Mbappe 2017 Panini Select Checkerboard refractor
2017-18 Panini Select (#224)
Another early Mbappé that’s garnered a good bit of attention is his Panini’s Select debut. The set consists of 300 cards, issued in three “levels” – Terrace, Mezzanine, and Field. Mbappé features in “Field Level”. That this is the first card to feature him in a PSG shirt adds to its already-significant appeal.
How one feels about a slew of parallels will play a significant role in the approach to collecting this card. The base card itself is very popular, with raw version commanding at least a few hundred dollars, with PSA 9s and PSA 10s pulling premiums into the four figures.
For some, however, the major prizes are the variety of parallels, from non-serially-numbered Checkerboard (a BGS 9.5 sold for a “best offer” below $5,000 on February 21) and Silver (2 PSA 9s sold, in December and January, for $600-$800 each; a raw version sold on February 28 for $1,224), to White (#/99), Copper (#/49; sold, in PSA 10, on January 13, for $5,100), Tie-Dye (#/30; PSA 10 sold, on January 20, for $12,000), Zebra (#/25), Camo (#/20), Gold (#/10), Green (#/5) and a one-of-one Black.
2017-18 Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League (#41)
Sporting a design similar to Topps Chrome’s baseball design from 2017 is the company’s UEFA Champions League product. Thanks to the focus on Champions League teams, the Topps Chrome UEFA Champions League product is stacked with top players.
Raw versions (as well as PSA 9s) of Mbappé’s base card sell regularly for more than $300 and $600, respectively, with PSA 10s (which don’t seem too tough to come by) going for up to $1,600. As it’s Chrome, there are refractors: unnumbered base refractors”, inserted every three packs ($600 raw), Purple (#/250; last sold raw, on February 5, for $1,231), Blue (#/150; last sold, February 22, raw, for $1,899), Green (#/99), Gold (#/50), Orange (#/25), Red (#/10) and a one-of-one SuperFractor. The rarest of these to come to market was a raw Green version, which sold on February 5, 2021, for $2,326.
Mbappé also features in two of the product’s insert sets: the 15-card “Future Stars” inserted every six packs, and the 20-card “Lightning Strike”, inserted every five packs, each with Gold (#/50), Red (#/10) and SuperFractor 1/1 parallels. The base Future Stars has been selling for about $150 raw, with PSA 9s around $250, and 10s between $800 and $1,000. Of the rarer parallels, two Gold refractors hit the market in late January, selling for $1,475 (PSA 9) and $1,750 (BGS 9.5). Meanwhile, base Lightning Strikes have sold for prices similar to those of the Future Stars. Also, on February 24, the one-of-one Lightning Strike Superfractor, graded 9.5 by BGS, sold for $20,999.99.
2018 Panini Prizm World Cup (#80)
Finally, we have the most popular of the early Mbappés and, interestingly, the only one featuring him in a France shirt, 2018’s Panini Prizm World Cup. Adding to the significance is the fact that the 2018 World Cup was the stage on which Mbappé took his superstar turn, and captured a winners’ medal. Base versions of the card are readily available for around $200 raw, with PSA 9s approaching $700, and PSA 10s around $1,300.
As with Panini Select and Topps Chrome, the set features a base card, along with a raft of parallels: unnumbered Silver, Hyper, Green & White Wave, Purple & Gold Wave, Blue (#/199), Red (#/149), Purple (#/99), Orange (#/65), Green Crystals (#/25), Camo (#/20), Gold (#/10), Gold Power (#/5), and Black (1/1). Boxes average 16 Prizm parallels per box, three of which are numbered to 199 or less.
Highlights here include a pair of Orange refractors sold in the last week of February for $14,100 (PSA 10) and $5,272 (BGS 9) – up from $3,050 for a PSA 9 in early January. Meanwhile, PSA 10 Silver refractors have sold for between $7,700 and $8,500, with high-grade versions of other parallels have been selling for between $1,000 and $5,000.
Mbappé also features in the 25-card “New Era” insert set, which itself has Silver, Gold (#/10) and Black (1/1) parallels. As with the Future Stars and Lightning Strike inserts, New Era offers a more affordable alternative to Mbappé’s red hot base card. To make a cross-sport comparison, these inserts are akin to 1996’s “Youthquake” as an alternative to Kobe’s Topps Chrome rookie and refractor.
For a guy with neither an actual rookie card nor an auto on the market, this is pretty amazing. But then, what else should we expect from a 22-year-old World Cup winner with no discernable weaknesses to his game, boundless ambition and the poise to weather the storm of global fame?
Kylian Mbappé is most certainly what’s next. But don’t let that obscure the fact that he’s also very much what’s now.
You can check out a list of the 100 most watched Kylian Mbappé cards on eBay below.
About Emile Avanessian
Emile Avanessian is a strategic consultant, freelance writer and hobby lifer, originally from the United States, now living in Barcelona. His work, focused largely on the NBA and Spanish soccer, has appeared, among other places, in the Los Angeles Times, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Tifo Football, The Blizzard, Barça Blaugranes and Forum Blue and Gold, as well as on his own site, Hardwood Hype (https://hardwoodhype.com/the-work). You can find Emile talking sports and collecting on Twitter (@hardwoodhype; https://twitter.com/hardwoodhype) and Instagram (@the_hardwood_hype; https://www.instagram.com/the_hardwood_hype/).