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(39,490 posts)
Sun Jul 15, 2018, 07:02 AM Jul 2018

France pins its hopes on Kylian Mbappe, the boy from the banlieue

Beneath grey apartment buildings in the poor suburb of Bondy, north-east of Paris, there was a familiar sound of summer afternoons: the thud of a football against concrete as children played kickabout in potholed courtyards.

But the French flags hanging from car windows, the banner supporting the French football team on a street corner, and children proudly wearing France football shirts showed a new sense of excitement. “Kylian Mbappé for president,” shouted a 10-year-old with a ball.

It was here in Bondy that Mbappé, the 19-year-old French hero of the World Cup, was born, raised and played his first games.

As France prepares to face Croatia in the final, the hero-worship of Mbappé has turned a positive spotlight on Paris’s poor banlieues. Several star players grew up in the capital’s outskirts, including N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba. The outpouring of pride is a welcome change for the ethnically diverse areas which, more than a decade after the 2005 riots, are still so stigmatised and discriminated against that one politician warned this year of “a new apartheid”.

...At a Bondy youth club, teenagers were preparing red, white and blue banners and stockpiling flags for the town’s screening of the final. “The World Cup has brought such a positive feeling here, it’s magic,” said Kamelia, 15, who played women’s football at AS Bondy, the small local club where Mbappé trained as a child. “There’s a real feeling of solidarity – whole families will be gathering to watch the match.”

...Unemployment and poverty on the estates north of Paris is still higher than elsewhere in France, and many young people remain marginalised and jobless because of their address, skin colour or their parents’ immigrant roots. President Emmanuel Macron once described the discrimination and inequality here as a kind of “house arrest”.

But Mbappé and his family tell another story of the banlieue – young talent, ambition and family support – which France has been keen to embrace this summer. If the young star began singing the national anthem and dreaming of playing for France before the age of five, much is due to his parents. His father Wilfried, who has Cameroonian roots, was a local football player and a respected coach in Bondy. His mother, Fayza, of Algerian origin, was a professional handball player. They still advise their son, who has been praised for giving his World Cup match fees to charity and he has said he would be lost without them.

“Wilfried Mbappé was a coach and youth worker while I was growing up, he always gave everything for the community; if it wasn’t for him, I might not be where I am today,” said Hakim Ziane, a teacher and youth worker. “It’s wonderful that the banlieue is being celebrated today rather than stigmatised. There are no barriers in this town. There is a lot of talent and we need to do what we can to make sure social mobility works.”


Watch the match today if you can or care to. One of the most thrilling sights in the world right now is Kylian Mbappe in full stride on a football field. Life is hard and France has suffered terrible tragedies these past few years and this formidable 19-year-old is bringing people joy. Allez les Bleus et merci Kylian.
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