Les Herbiers (France) (AFP) – When little Les Herbiers come up against Kylian Mbappe and co. in Tuesday’s French Cup final clash with the mighty Paris Saint-Germain, they could be forgiven for freezing on the big stage.
Rarely has a showpiece game appeared such a mismatch as this, which will pit the third-division minnows against one of the most expensively-assembled sides in the history of the game.
With Neymar still not fit, Mbappe will be the costliest player on show, with PSG committing 180 million euros ($215m) to sign the teenage sensation from Monaco.
But not all of the unheralded Les Herbiers players will be star-struck, least of all little Rodrigue Bongongui.
For the 25-year-old is looking forward to a reunion with Mbappe, who is almost six years his junior.
The two crossed paths briefly at AS Bondy, a club from the Paris suburbs, only a short distance from the Stade de France where they will run out in front of as many as 80,000 fans on Tuesday evening.
After Les Herbiers and PSG won through to the final last month, Bondy posted a picture on Instagram showing a smiling Mbappe, still an infant and wearing a red jacket, joining in a photo of Bongongui’s team.
“I remember it. We were preparing for a home game with AS Bondy, the club where I grew up,” Bongongui told AFP of the photo that was taken 15 years ago.
“Before each match we would often watch the young ones play. At that time I think he was with the ‘poussins’ (the youngest age group).
“That day, one of my best friends, who is closer to him, told him to get in the photo with us because he was just part of the family.”
– Watched from afar –
Fate has now brought them back together, albeit in different colours.
After all, the two players are not in the same class, with Mbappe, despite his still tender years, already regarded as one of the finest forwards on the planet.
“We knew he was a future star and he has shown it. It makes us proud but it is not a surprise,” said Bongongui.
Mbappe is still a teenager but he has already won two French Ligue 1 titles, with Monaco last year and now PSG. He has starred in the latter stages of the Champions League and will go to the World Cup with France.