PARIS (AP) — Kylian Mbappe may feel a little bit old when he takes the field for defending champion Paris Saint-Germain at Angers on Saturday.
French soccer’s former teen prodigy could witness a new one emerging in 16-year-old Angers forward Mohamed-Ali Cho. He is the youngest player to be given a professional contract in France, and was even younger when he made his senior debut this season than Mbappe was when he made his.
Now 22 years old, Mbappe is well established as one of the world’s best forwards and he cost PSG 180 million euros — the second biggest transfer fee in soccer history.
Since appearing for former club Monaco just shy of his 17th birthday, Mbappe has won the World Cup with France — scoring in the 2018 final — and netted 131 goals at club level.
Cho has yet to score his first senior goal, but has shown glimpses of his talent.
Angers, a low-profile and friendly family club, fended off some of the leading clubs in Europe and persuaded Cho to sign a three-year contract in May last year.
When Cho came on as a substitute against Bordeaux in late August he was 16 years, 7 months — making him four months younger than Mbappe on his Monaco debut.
Like Mbappe, he was born in the Paris suburbs, but his early years were far more hectic.
He moved to England — where his family worked in London — and then back to France.
After a few years spent in PSG’s junior teams, Cho again went to England — in a different location.
He joined the youth ranks of Premier League club Everton for five years in the northern city of Liverpool, before once more returning to France one year ago to join Angers.
Although he has yet to score for Angers in nine appearances, where he has been deployed as a substitute, he is regarded within French soccer circles as a major attacking talent.
Cho, who has also represented England twice at under-16 level, showed just why last September with a hat trick in an 8-0 friendly win for France’s under-17s against the under-19s from Angers.
His first goal even had a touch of Mbappe about it.
Cho expertly flicked the ball past a player in midfield and skipped effortlessly around him, used his sheer pace to burst forward through the middle; then surged past another player by switching the ball from his right to his left foot before confidently stroking the ball in with his left.
Like Cho, Mbappe started out as a winger.
They are similar, too, in being comfortable with both feet and can play either wide or in a more central role. Both are adept at cutting inside to better line up a shot, having perfected this facet of wing play — shared by Portugal great Cristiano Ronaldo — in their formative years.
Angers coach Stephane Moulin, whose side sits in seventh place after recent wins against Marseille and third-place Lille, has been careful not to put Cho under pressure.
“You can’t expect him to improve the team at his age, even if that can happen. Most of all we ask him not to weaken it,” Moulin said. “From what I see from him every day that is the case. He’ll continue to improve, albeit in a slightly quicker way.”
Abdel Bouhazama, who runs the Angers youth academy, says Cho already has an aura about him.
“One thing that doesn’t lie is the attitude of the other players,” Bouhazama told Ouest-France newspaper. “When someone is very good, you can see it in the attitude of the other players, in the way they communicate, their attitude toward him.”
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