Brazil great Pele has tipped Kylian Mbappe to “become the new Pele” and also told France Football he has warned Neymar he must continue to focus more on playing than play-acting.
Pele has fostered a friendship with Mbappe via social media and a number of mutual compliments ever since, at age 19, the France forward became the youngest-ever goalscorer in a World Cup final since the Brazilian legend struck twice as a 17-year-old in 1958.
The parallels between the prodigies past and present are clear, and Pele believes the Paris Saint-Germain man has the potential to join him in the pantheon of the game’s all-time greats.
“I already complimented Kylian last season saying that he’s a great player. Some started making comparisons with Neymar two or three years ago. And I noticed him at that time. He won the World Cup at 19, I was just 17,” Pele said.
“I ribbed him saying that he had almost equalled me. I think he can become the new Pele! A lot of people think I say that jokingly, but no, it’s no joke,” said the 78-year-old, who admitted he had told Mbappe “to make me even happier you have to win another World Cup.”
While Mbappe’s star is in the ascendancy, that of his PSG teammate Neymar has waned in recent months.
His underwhelming performances for Brazil at the World Cup drew criticism, though it was his simulation during the tournament that provoked the most vitriol with social media revelling in the former Barcelona man’s overly dramatic antics in Russia as well as his much-maligned “spaghetti” hairstyle.
Though Pele insisted Neymar “doesn’t worry” about now arguably being in Mbappe’s shadow, he did say he had spoken to the 26-year-old, who — like him — came through at Santos, about where he should now concentrate his undoubted talent.
“A father doesn’t criticise, he educates,” Pele explained. “When I say to you that he’s our creation, I consider him a son of Santos. People think I bend his ear too often, but I do that for his own good. I want the best for him, for our Brazil, for our national team. I’m going to do everything to help him and to help him improve, don’t worry about that.”
He added: “What has happened the last two years? He has wanted to be seen! Not scoring goals or doing some nice moves, no. He has started to make himself be seen by simulating fouls, by making referees’ lives difficult… That’s why his image has become negative.
“But we have spoken about that several times. I have also spoken about it with his dad, we often speak to each other. Now, it seems like he’s finally understood. He is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best players in the world and I hope he’ll soon become THE best.”