With already 25 tenures, the child of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges (Val-de-Marne) has settled this season as an indisputable holder in the Champagne attack. To the point that the 18-year-old young man, who stood out during the U17 World Cup in 2019, is already coveted by many clubs in France and abroad. Before challenging PSG on Sunday, Nathanaël Mbuku, 18, speaks, in particular, of his apprenticeship at the high level with a freshness tinged with rare maturity.
Are you satisfied with your first season as a starter?
NATHANAËL BOOK. I would have liked to be a little more efficient. But I am improving day by day. With each game, I am storing experience. The coach trusts me. Now I have to keep working. Football is a marathon, and we sprint.
What grade out of 10 would you give yourself?
(He bursts out laughing). Come on, a little 6.
You are severe. At 18, it’s already not bad to score 4 goals and deliver 2 assists …
We’re talking about my age. But age is just a stat. As a certain Kylian Mbappé repeats, there is no point in hiding behind his date of birth. If I am established, it is because I am judged capable of bringing something more to my team.
For a young player, is Kylian Mbappé the example to follow?
He does exceptional things. Through his attitude and performance, he sets an example. We all try to be inspired by it. There is no secret or chance in football. Kylian is reaping the rewards of his labor. He has faith in his qualities. He knows where he wants to go and what to do to be successful. We would all like to be in his place. To achieve this, we must redouble our efforts. And above all, stay humble, believe in yourself and in your dreams.
What have you learned this season?
I understood that you have to play with your head. I was not aligned during the first days of the championship. I thought maybe then only to win my place at all costs. I was making some bad choices. I quickly realized that football is a team sport and I questioned myself. The coach just told me not to give up. I hung on and then accumulated playing time.
What does the goal represent to you?
It is very important for individual confidence. But you shouldn’t focus on that alone, otherwise, you’re only going to want to play for yourself and you fall very quickly. You have to think about the team first. You will score goals collectively.
After Monaco (1-0 defeat), you face Paris (Sunday, 9 p.m.). Are you talking in the locker room about your role as a referee in the Champions League race?
Arbitrator, that’s a big word. We do our best to prepare for this meeting. We do this job to have the chance to play such opponents. We are looking for a big hit at the Park.
What does the Parc des Princes mean to you, the child of Val-de-Marne?
A beautiful museum. I had never been there before September 2019 and our success in Ligue 1 for my first tenure (2-0). My family was there, very moved and proud. My friends, too, were in the stands. I was a bit at home! The emotion was incredible. I looked around me, it was difficult to realize? A few weeks earlier, I was playing against Neymar on the PlayStation! And there he was in front of me on the ground.
Do you still consider yourself “the little darling, the kid of the club”?
Of course, and it will still be the case when I turn 30. Reims is my home. I would never stop thanking the club and its leaders for allowing me to make my dream come true by becoming a professional.
You are a boy full of authenticity. Are you afraid to change by gaining a certain notoriety?
I’m not going to take the big head or tell me, because I started in L1. I keep my way of being, I make jokes, I set the mood. I am in the joy of living, open-minded. You have to keep a cool head, have a foolproof mind and keep it. I am fortunate to have a healthy and attentive entourage and teammates able to reframe me or yell at me if I slip.
How does it feel to receive the 2019 U17 World Cup silver shoe trophy from Brazilian legend Ronaldo?
I didn’t recognize him right away because he got a little stronger. It was a childhood dream. Especially shake his hand. I had an indescribable feeling. In front of him, I tried to keep my calm. But inside… He said a few words to me in Portuguese. I didn’t understand, but I smiled. As I know how to do.
Your partner Marshall Munetsi has created a foundation in his country which combines sport and studies and in which he pays between 10 and 20% of his salary each month. How do you judge this approach?
I fully support it. It didn’t surprise me. He is touching and very attached to Zimbabwe. We have the chance to earn a good living and to be able to do a lot of things and come, in particular, to help people in need. Athletes are in their role by committing to a societal approach.
Are you attentive to your communication?
We are exposed people. On and off the pitch, you owe it to yourself to ensure the image you convey, especially among the youngest. I am on social networks and I try to manage my communication as best as possible. It is important not to do anything.