France’s golden boy Mbappe on the firing line after rare communication faux pas

Kylian Mbappe is France’s golden boy, a sporting icon in his country aged just 23 and someone who usually can do no wrong. But the Paris Saint-Germain striker faced criticism on Tuesday for a rare fake pass.

The World Cup-winning striker has always appeared mature beyond his years, comfortable speaking to the media even when he was still a teenager in Monaco.

He comes across as intelligent, thoughtful and funny in interviews and is already fluent in English and Spanish.

However, on Monday it slipped.

Mbappe broke into laughter alongside his coach Christophe Galtier at a press conference when asked a question about PSG’s decision to travel by private jet to a match in the western city of Nantes.

That trip, 380 kilometers (240 miles) from Paris, has been met with backlash in France, with the choice of the trip being more scrutinized for its carbon footprint.

The head of the country’s state-owned railways company tweeted that Nantes is just a two-hour journey on the TGV high-speed train.

The issue was set to emerge as Mbappe and Galtier faced questions ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Italian side Juventus.

Galtier quipped that PSG had asked their travel organizers if they could travel to matches “with sand-yachts”.

“I have no thoughts,” added Mbappe when asked for his opinion.

“The reaction of Christophe Galtier and Kylian Mbappe shows how distant they are from the issues of climate change,” Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s energy transition minister, told Cnews news channel.

When contacted by AFP, Mbappe’s entourage did not comment.

– “Hit his image” –

Such a media blunder is unusual for Mbappe, a polished player with 75 million Instagram followers who has his own charity, ‘Inspired by KM’, and who speaks out against racism in football.

“He was a bit taken aback by the question. It’s a devastating blow to his image,” Frank Hockemiller, the agent of several France internationals, told AFP.

“Footballers need to understand that if you are a role model or in his case an icon, everything matters a lot,” added Hocquemiller, the co-founder of image consultants VIP Consulting and agency Hat Trick Management.

“You can’t have 200 million followers and advertising contracts worth millions of euros and then expect what you say not to resonate.”

Mbappe hit the headlines for the wrong reasons earlier this year when he boycotted a marketing event for the French Football Federation over a dispute over the use of his image rights with the French club.

At the time, the player’s environment said it just wanted to be more selective about which brands it associated with.

His attitude on the pitch was also questioned at the start of this season as he failed to hide his disappointment when Neymar took a penalty in a game against Montpellier which Mbappe clearly felt should have been his.

Now, by showing his distance from environmental issues, Mbappe appears to have squandered an opportunity to emerge as an “excellent ambassador” to promote greener travel, according to French climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte.

“I’ve been saying for a long time how good it would be if someone like Mbappe could show that you can pick up your rubbish or travel by bike,” he told France Inter radio.

“What he says, what he does, those things have an influence far beyond what scientists could say or do, because he inspires so many people.”

However, Hocquemiller said Mbappe’s response should be seen as nothing more than youthful indiscretion.

“It’s all about him gaining experience. He’s really mature enough for his age and we feel like he’s never going to make a mistake, but he’s like everybody else,” Hocquemiller said.

“When he speaks he must understand the weight of his words and how they are interpreted.”

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