French soccer star Mbappe urges others to dream big

At last year's men's soccer World Cup, one player stood out: French forward Kylian Mbappe. His team may have lost in the final to Argentina, but the wearer of the number 10 jersey was honored with the Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals at the tournament.

The 24-year-old is aiming at goals off the pitch too, inspiring people from the disadvantaged community where he grew up.

A soccer prodigy from "banlieue"

Mbappe's hometown is Bondy, on the outskirts of Paris.

According to France's National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, poverty in Bondy – located about 10km northeast of central Paris – is more than double the national rate.

Areas on the outskirts of Paris such as Bondy are called "banlieue," which despite its literal meaning of "suburb" in French has negative connotations.

As the economy grew in the 1950s, many public housing complexes were built in the banlieues to accommodate a rising population. These days they are home to low-income households, including many immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa and other countries. This has led to a stark economic gap between central Paris and the suburbs that ring the French capital.

Mbappe's father is from Cameroon and his mother has Algerian heritage. He was five years old when he joined a local soccer team, and 16 when he began his professional career with AS Monaco, a Ligue 1 club.

At the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Mbappe, then aged 19, helped France to win the championship for the first time in 20 years by scoring in the final. At last year's Cup final in Qatar, he scored a hat-trick of goals in the loss to Argentina, among his eight across the tournament.

That talent has led to fame and fortune, with Mbappe ranked last year as the world's highest-earning footballer by US magazine Forbes in October 2022, ahead of superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Love your dream"

Visitors to Bondy are welcomed by a huge mural on an apartment building. It depicts a sleeping Mbappe, dreaming of wearing a French national team shirt. A message above reads: "Love your dream and it will love you in return."

An apartment mural that quotes Mbappe: "Love your dream and it will love you in return."

Mbappe uses his profile to boost spirits. "Our neighborhood is an incredible melting pot of different cultures—French, African, Asian, Arab, every part of the world. People from outside of France always talk about the banlieues in a bad light, but if you're not from here, you can't really understand what it's like," he has said.

"To the kids in Bondy, to the kids in the banlieues, we are France. You are France. We are the crazy dreamers. And lucky for us, dreaming doesn't cost very much. In fact, it's free. Never forget that."

Mbappe posted 'A letter to the young Kylians' on the Players' Tribune site in February 2020.

A local hero

Children in Bondy regard Mbappe as a hero. "Kylian is a graduate of our school, and he is like our family. He is already a soccer legend, and everyone admires him," said a 6-year-old boy at a public gymnasium.

Kids at a public gymnasium in Bondy say Mbappe is their hero.

A woman working at a local restaurant says, "Mbappe…gives hope to everyone as their big brother."

On the day of the World Cup final, a public viewing event at a gymnasium in Bondy attracted a crowd of supporters who cheered wildly for each of his goals.

Carrying on a legacy

Mbappe might be the player of the moment, but he is not the first to forge a successful soccer career from beginnings in a disadvantaged area. In 1998, Zinedine Zidane led France to its first-ever World Cup title.

Zidane was born in the suburbs of Marseille to parents who came from Algeria. He also inspired young people from an immigrant background, showing them that dreams can become reality for those who work hard and believe in themselves.

Although the economic situation and social image of the banlieue circling Paris have not changed much in the past 25 years, many in France are eager to see Mbappe rewrite history.