It’s Thursday, February 18, 2021. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you probably saw Kylian Mbappe rip Barcelona to shreds at Camp Nou on Tuesday, and in so doing announce himself definitively as one of the game’s supreme players.
Scoring a hat-trick and carrying PSG to victory over Barcelona, especially in the absence of Neymar, was a statement that cannot now be ignored. Without a doubt, in Mbappe we are seeing the best player in the world outside of the Brazilian and the two extra-terrestrials. So, projecting five years into the future, who would line up alongside him in the front three of a World XI to take on a full-scale alien invasion?
Why would aliens want to play football, you ask? I don’t know; they seemed fine with playing basketball against Michael Jordan in ‘Space Jam’, didn’t they? Get off my case!
Picking a centre-forward is easy enough. Erling Braut Haaland, at 20, is already an irrepressible presence in the opposition penalty area and a superb finisher. It is not a stretch to imagine that, in 2026, the Norwegian will be even better, even faster, even stronger.
That leaves one position open. So, who would be slotting on the right of the attack?
First, some ground rules.
Which left-footed youngster plays alongside Mbappe and Haaland?
Since we’re projecting five years into the future, our pick cannot be older than 23 at the time of writing. We want our attack functioning at peak, both physically and mentally, to give us the best chance of success.
Second, there’s a tactical consideration. Seeing as both Mbappe and Haaland are essentially strikers, we are looking for a more creative presence on the right to balance their more goal-oriented movements. We have to assume the aliens have an astute tactician on the bench, and would be able to exploit a top-heavy set-up. Plus points as well if this player is equally capable of playing on the left, and so can switch flanks with Mbappe.
So, with these rules in mind, and sweeping an eye across the football landscape, four names emerge: Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, and… Romain Faivre.
Foden has finally, after seeming to stall, caught fire at Manchester City. His recent devastation of Liverpool at Anfield was impressive enough, but even more eye-catching was the fact he did it playing a number of different positions on the night. Ultimately though, he finished the game on the right of the City front three, whence he crashed home the coup de grace, the final exclamation point that his overall performance merited.
Now an established mainstay in the starting 11, Foden’s ability is above doubt, and his potential, both as a creator and a finisher, is boundless.
The same can be said about Saka. Arsenal has lurched from one storm to the next over the last three seasons, but the England international has been the silver lining for the Gunners. His work rate, versatility, close control, intelligence, and directness mark him out as one the finest young footballers in the world, and if he continues to grow at this current clip, he would perfectly complement our front two, especially as he is less of an individualist than Foden.
The other two buck the established trend, but in different ways.
Unlike the others, Sancho (20) is a right-footed winger who uses his speed to explode past full-backs and put low crosses and cut-backs into the box. His breakout season with Borussia Dortmund last year saw him incessantly linked to Manchester United last summer, and though his form has simmered down a bit (no surprise, as Dortmund, have greatly underperformed this term), he remains on his day, efficient in the utmost. He would stretch defences better on that flank, being right-footed, and is no slouch in front of goal himself.
Faivre (22) is a bit of a left-field choice, but followers of Ligue 1 will understand just why this player is so highly-rated. Like Sancho, he has been linked to Manchester United, but unlike the Dortmund man he is very much of the same ilk as Foden and Saka, in that he is left-footed. He is, however, more varied in his positioning, and will often move into more central areas, either to assist build-up or to progress the ball into the final third.
Why do I have such great faith in his potential? Well, according to FBref, Faivre is in the top 25 for Expected Assists (xA) in Europe’s top five leagues, He is also in the 97th percentile among attacking midfielders for shot-creating actions per 90 and carries into the final third, all this while playing for Brest, the 12th-best team in France. Outside the top four in Ligue 1, only Montpelier has scored more goals than Brest, and Faivre has been at the heart of their attacking threat, leading the team in key passes and dribbles.
So, who would be your pick? Remember, the fate of the earth in five years may well depend on your choice.