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Kylian Mbappe, Victor Wembanyama battle to become the face of French sport


French sports have two global superstars whose fame and popularity dwarf that of their country's other elite athletes.

It's not a newsflash to inform you that Kylian Mbappe and Victor Wembanyama, soccer savant and basketball box office attraction, both young, electrifying, determined to represent France at this summer's Paris Olympics, are known around the world, and , we can safely assume. , on track for a bright future.

So far, Mbappe has remained himself i am home — the man — when it comes to the public's affection for his homeland, because when you lead your country to the World Cup title at 19, you can single-handedly do it again four years later. – Human performance for the ages.

But here comes Wembanyama, the newly-minted NBA Rookie of the Year, threatening to match him step by step. The wickedly talented San Antonio Spurs center has done everything asked of him and more in his debut season, and given being on everyone's right side, it hasn't been long enough to ruffle any feathers.

Not so with Mbappe. When the 25-year-old takes the field for his final home game as a Paris Saint-Germain player against Toulouse on Sunday, the reception he will receive is likely to be a bit frosty. With his contract expiring, he and the club aren't parting ways on particularly friendly terms.

There is some lingering frustration on both sides that, despite three consecutive Ligue 1 titles, PSG's long and costly quest for Champions League success has come to nothing, cemented by an upset defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals this week.

Among PSG supporters, there have been doubts that Mbappe has given a less than intense effort this campaign and, all in all, some of the luster he left at the World Cup in Qatar 17 months ago has now faded.

At the start of next season, you can expect to see him wearing Real Madrid's iconic white shirt, a move that is not yet official but is the worst-kept secret in sports.

(Mbappe has announced he is leaving PSG ahead of an expected move to Real Madrid)

Mbappe was booed by his own supporters in February and again in the recent home Champions League quarter-final defeat to Barcelona, ​​before his superb efforts in the second leg turned things around. It's not inconceivable that there are some shakeups this weekend.

Wembanyama knows and understands the burden of expectation that Mbappe is under, as the piercing glare of the spotlight is always there for him as well. He is also aware that despite the five-year age gap, they are bound to be France's figureheads for the current sporting generation.

Is Anthony Edwards or Victor Wembanyama the next face of the NBA?

Is Anthony Edwards or Victor Wembanyama the next face of the NBA?

“I realize we have a lot in common,” Wembanyama told reporters. “He's the player who inspires me the most in football. He's the one I know a lot. Still, I want to be original and go my own way.”

Mbappé's final home game saw a muted reaction compared to Wembanyama's hero's farewell in the final months of his time in the French league, before moving on to the NBA.

Mbappe sat courtside with French actor Omar Sy for Wembanyama's final regular-season game, which was greeted with even more excitement because it came just hours before the NBA draft lottery — essentially confirming he would be headed to San Antonio.

“The story begins now,” Mbappe wrote alongside a photo of Wembanyama on social media.

In Wembanyama's last playoff game in France, when his Boulogne-Lévalois team lost to Monaco, the Roland Garros tennis center was switched to a larger crowd, and fans chanted “Merci (thank you), Wembi”, as the final rang out.

It may be an unfair expectation, but it may be that Mbappe needs to lead France to victory at this summer's European Championships to retain his top spot on the list of his country's favorite athletes.

Indeed, both men, who have become good friends, will have a huge opportunity to grow their legacy this summer.

French star Kylian Mbappe has already surpassed football greats

French star Kylian Mbappe has already surpassed football greats

The significance of Paris hosting the Summer Olympics for the first time in 100 years cannot be overstated. France has a special and unique affinity for the games, founded in the late 19th century by French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

France's basketball team claimed silver at the last Olympics in Tokyo, losing to the United States squad in the final, and with Wembanyama now in the squad, hopes are high that home advantage can inspire another medal challenge.

On the soccer side, Mbappe has said he wants to play in both the Euros and the Olympics, the latter of which is restricted to players aged 23 and under, with three exceptions allowed for older players.

His participation could become a point of discussion between him and Real Madrid, who likely don't want to spend so much of the club offseason involving him in tournament action.

Despite the emotional temptation of having the Games in Paris, the Euros are overwhelmingly the priority. France's national team, under head coach Didier Deschamps, has proved so successful that it is perhaps the only current country where losing the final of a major tournament can be considered a disappointment.

Mbappe's incredible performance at the 2022 World Cup has created a level of expectation that is almost impossible to match. Anytime the team is struggling, expect Mbappe to magically come to the rescue.

If he does that at the Euros, PSG's club season difficulties will be quickly forgotten.

Popularity in sport is a strange and fickle thing, especially in a county like France that has had so much success on the international stage.

Wembanyama's career is still in that refreshingly early stage where he doesn't have to worry about such things, but that could come before too long.

If so, learning from Mbappe's experience could offer some benefits.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX And Daily newsletter subscription.

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Kylian Mbappé

Victor Wembanyama

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