France’s newly minted soccer captain is not one to hide his emotions. In December, two days before his 24th birthday, the world watched as he slumped devastated on the pitch in Qatar, having scored three goals, but missing out on his second World Cup victory. Crouching awkwardly beside him in comfort was French President Emmanuel Macron.
Like Kylian Mbappé’s devout fans, Macron knows he is more than a soccer genius—he is a living rags-to-riches fairy tale. A kid raised in Paris’ tough suburbs, Mbappé rocketed to global fame by winning the 2018 World Cup at just 19.
When Mbappé weighed a nine-figure transfer from Paris Saint-Germain to Real Madrid last year, Macron called and begged him to stay for the sake of France. Mbappé stayed at PSG. Despite his incredible celebrity, Mbappé has three home truths from his mom that keep him grounded: “Respect, humility, lucidity.” He has a realistic view of fame, and even at 19 he knew it can be fickle. “We can be the best, and in four years, you are forgotten,” he told me then. No chance of that, Kylian.
Walt is a TIME correspondent in Paris
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