Kylian Mbappé’s rapid start to his career could put him in the running for the greatest soccer player of all time.

That topic is one that sparks debate among a certain set of players. Four men separate themselves from their peers in their respective eras.

Pelé, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Mount Rushmore of soccer all played in similar positions along the front line. Yet, they interpreted their roles differently based on their skillsets and the tactical formations used.

Central midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers are mostly excluded from these debates. Reason being, their ability to influence a match tends to come on a collective effort. Contrarily, attacking midfielders, forwards and strikers score most of their team’s goals. Individuals can create the majority of a side’s chances, therefore allowing for more individual brilliance.

Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are still strong players. However, their best days are in their dominant past. Instead, one of Lionel Messi’s teammates has the ability and potential to one day join the ‘GOAT’ debate.

Prodigious Beginnings

Kylian Mbappé is already a legend. If his career ended today, Mbappé would be remembered as one of the greatest French players in the history of the country. In six seasons, he accomplished more than most players have in their entire careers. At 23, he scored 26 goals for Les Bleus and will most likely become their all-time leading scorer. Next season, he can surpass Edison Cavani’s mark of 200 goals. In doing so, he becomes the all-time leading scorer in Paris Saint-Germain’s history. Mbappé currently has 171 scores for the Parisians.

Comparable statistics

The game changed drastically over the years. Players flip clubs and country regularly, making statistics more jumbled. The fact that leagues and competitions in South America do not necessarily align with European competitions makes things more confusing. Regardless, there are certain comparisons to make between Pelé, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and a young Kylian Mbappé .

Club success
Domestic League wins Domestic Cup wins International Cup wins
Pelé 17 4 4
Maradona 3 4 1
Messi 11 14 10
Ronaldo 7 12 11
Mbappé 5 5 0


Pelé, Messi and Mbappé have success at one club, with the exception of Messi’s lone season in France and Pelé’s brief tenure with the New York Cosmos. International cups includes things like the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores. Plus, there are competitions along the lines of the FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and even an intercontinental Super Cup.

International success
World Cup Continental Cups Smaller competitions
Pelé 3 0 7
Maradona 1 0 1
Messi 0 1 1
Ronaldo 0 1 1
Mbappé 1 0 1


When representing their country, each of the five players has success. Of course, the landscape of international soccer changed over the 70 years of play. Remarkably, Pelé and Maradona never won a Copa América.

Smaller competitions refers to things like the UEFA Nations League, the Olympics, the CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions (Finalissima in 2022) and various small tournaments from Pelé and Brazil in the 1960s.

Individual success
Ballon d’Or Top scorer in domestic league Best player of the year from home country
Pelé 7* 14 1*
Maradona 2* 6 4
Messi 7 8 14
Ronaldo 5 5 4
Mbappé 0 4 2


There are too many awards to go around for these four players. Top scorers, best players at tournaments, most assists in a year, league player of the year, Golden Ball at World Cup or continental cup. This is simply a surface-level look at the illustrious careers of four of the game’s greats. Plus, the table shows how Kylian Mbappé already has individual success.

The Ballon d’Or ‘wins’ for Pelé and Diego Maradona are retrospective. Up until 1995, only European-born players were eligible to receive the award. In 2016, France Football announced who would have won the award if it were open to the world, not just Europe, for each year since its inception.

Note that Brazil only started handing out an award for Brazilian footballer of the year in 1970, thee only year Pelé won. Plus, the award only goes to players in Brazil. However, it remains the best comparison to the other players listed.

Peak Performance
Player Best era Highlights
Pelé 1957-1965, 1970 FIFA World Cup Three World Cups, domestic success
Maradona 1977-81, 1986-1990 Single-handedly carried Argentina to 1986 World Cup
Messi 2009-19, 2021 Copa America Dominated Spanish soccer for a decade
Cristiano 2007-08 club season, 2011-12, 2016-19 Won regularly in three countries at highest level
Mbappé 2018-current World Cup win, bright talent


Out of the five categories, peak performance is the most important. Many prefer consistency and longevity, which is understandable. But peak performance displays the ability to rise above your competition and reach heights that few can in the history of the sport.

In soccer, the heights Maradona reached from 1986-1990 are still unmatched. Pelé played for legendary teams on the club and international level. Cristiano and Messi played for club sides that are among the best in soccer history. Maradona didn’t have that luxury on the club or international level, but rather willed his teams to the mountaintop.

Kylian Mbappé path to being the greatest of all time

“I want to win and win more. If you look at the world of football, there are a lot of great players and if you fall asleep then someone can take it away from you. I’m a lucky guy who plays for a great team at club and international level, but I don’t look back. I don’t think about what I’ve won, my goal is to keep winning. I want to make football history,” said Mbappé after he received the Best Player of the Year Award at the 2021 Globe Soccer Awards.

His drive to become the best fuels his game. The first step in reaching soccer’s Mount Rushmore is to lead PSG to their first Champions League triumph in spectacular form. If he is able, then he will be among Pelé and Maradona in a small group of elite players who led their respective clubs to their first piece of major continental silverware. Mbappé is already in an exclusive club with Pelé they are currently the only teenagers to score in a FIFA World Cup final which exhibits their precociousness.

More French success

The next step for Kylian Mbappé to emerge as one of the greatest of all time is to win more international hardware with France. Les Bleus has the deepest talent pool when it comes to players, so they are among the favorites in every competition for the next decade.

The last step will be to leave France down the line and to challenge himself either in the Premier League or La Liga. Out of the five ‘Big Leagues’ in Europe, Ligue 1 is fifth. While there is plenty of talent in the division, PSG is the overwhelming favorite every season due to their financial advantage in the nation and club soccer overall. The Ballon d’Ors will come eventually because he is currently the best and most explosive player in the world.

While he has a long way to go, don’t be surprised when if Mbappé joins the G.O.A.T. conversation.

In 2017, Maradona spoke highly of the French international to AS, a major Spanish newspaper.

“For me, Mbappé is the revelation of football. He seems to me that he can be better than lots of players.”

Including Maradona.

PHOTO: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images