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Ethan Mbappe: Time for Kylian’s little brother to make his mark

Ethan Mbappe: Time for Kylian's little brother to make his mark

It’s difficult to mention Ethan Mbappe without bringing up his older brother. Kylian, after all, is one of the best in the world, and will go down as an all-time great of the game. But Ethan can play, too. He may be nearly nine years his brother’s junior, but he has plenty of talent in his own right.

Smaller in stature, and more of a technical midfielder, Ethan has spent time in numerous top European academies, made his PSG debut as a teenager, and seems poised for a move of his own this summer.

And although he has followed Kylian around in the early days of his tenure at the top level, there remains a prevailing sense that he is good enough to carve out his own path, and enjoy a career at the highest level. With Kylian about to leave for Real Madrid, Ethan finally has his chance.

TOPSGS takes a look at a player who can be so much more than just the little brother of a Ballon d’Or contender.

Where it all began

The French midfielder was born in the suburbs of Paris, to a footballing family. His elder brother, Kylian was highlighted as a world-class talent from an early age, while his adopted sibling Jires Kembo Ekoko enjoyed a professional career of his own. Mbappe’s father, Wilfried, was a professional and proceeded to go into coaching.

Ethan followed a similar career path to his older brother, joining local side AS Bondy in 2015. When Kylian moved to PSG from Monaco in 2017, the younger Mbappe did the same – and soon became a regular for the youth sides. He scored on his debut for the U-12s, and impressed at multiple levels in the Parisian setup.

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The big break

Mbappe bounced between the youth and senior sides for most of the 2022-23 season, and when his brother was away at the Qatar World Cup, Ethan had his chance. Then just 15 years old, Ethan came off the bench at half-time of the Parisians’ friendly with Paris FC in December 2022.

By that point, he was well-established at youth national level, having made his France U-16 debut in 2021. And although Christophe Galtier’s inconsistent tenure offered few opportunities for some of Paris’ young talent to shine, it was a matter of time before Ethan got his moment for the first team.

How it’s going

That first-team opportunity came in late December 2023. The Parisians were battering Metz when Ethan replaced Manuel Ugarte in stoppage time. It came on a special day, the midfielder entering the fray on his older brother’s 25th birthday.

PSG head coach Luis Enrique, not usually one for sentiment, backed Ethan for more playing time.

“Ethan is a very interesting player who can play in several positions. I am sure he will play again. He has a prestigious surname, which is difficult to live up to,” he said in a post-match press conference.

Biggest strengths

Ethan is an entirely different type of player to his rapid and tricky older brother. Smaller in stature and left-footed, Ethan functions better as a central midfielder, and is an adept passer and ball carrier from deep areas.

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As one scout told L’Equipe in December: “When I look at the U-19 squad, he’s one of the best. He’s made great progress over the last 18 months, becoming simpler and more efficient in his distribution. And he’s working for the team.”

But he also does the dirty work. Ethan can put in a tackle, reads the game, and is ever-improving in his 50/50 duels. His versatility has already been vital – and will likely continue to be in the coming years.

“Over the last few months, you have to separate the potential from the collective context, where this generation is much weaker than those that preceded it. Ethan, you can feel the potential. He’s a player with real technical ability who understands the game,” the scout added.

Room for improvement

That said, there is definitely work to be done. Ethan has an excellent left foot, but is at times totally averse to using his weaker right. He can also be frantic in the final third, and sometimes loses the ball in crucial situations under pressure.

As with many youth products, Ethan could certainly do with bulking up. At 5’9″, he’s not necessarily short, but he will need to work on his strength if he is to thrive at the highest level – especially in a big-five European league.

“He’s made progress in defensive transition and volume. He still needs to improve his speed of execution,” the scout added.

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The next… Martin Zubimendi?

Ethan, it is worth mentioning, is still very inexperienced at the top level. With only one minute of senior football under his belt – albeit for PSG – his future is up in the air. Still, there are some reference points here. One is Sergio Busquets, another Thiago Motta. He’s got the same sort of wiry frame and clever passing ability. There is a world in which Ethan becomes a pivot of Busquets’ type.

Perhaps a more realistic comparison, however, is Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi. The defensive midfielder has been crucial for La Real for the past two seasons, and is linked with a number of top clubs ahead of the summer. He has already broken into the Spanish national team setup, and figures to be a high-level midfielder for many years to come. Reaching that level would be no small achievement.

What comes next?

Ethan’s future is at something of a crossroads. Thus far, he has followed his brother from club to club, making his mark in academy systems while Kylian stars for the first team. But now, it seems, Ethan is properly ready to go it alone.

Luis Enrique has affirmed his faith in the teenager, while he has seemingly done enough to stick around and fight for a place in the first team. How that looks in a few years remains to be seen, but Ethan is certainly well-placed to have a top-level career. He may not ever be his big brother, but there’s definitely a player with significant potential.

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