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The world's best soccer player is taking his talents to the world's No. 1 team

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's call it the rich getting richer, soccer version. Two days after winning a record 15th Champions League title, Spanish club Real Madrid has added 25-year-old French phenom Kylian Mbappe to an already star-studded roster. You might remember Mbappe from his virtuoso performance in the 2022 Men's World Cup broadcast on Fox when he became only the second man to score a hat trick in a final, although France eventually lost to Argentina.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And what a fun Mbappe. He'll steer back inside to rock - Mbappe.

MARTIN: It's a move that will resonate far beyond European soccer. To tell us why, we've called former U.S. Men's National Team and Major League soccer star, Cobi Jones. He is now an analyst for Fox Sports. Welcome, Mr. Jones. Thank you so much for joining us.

COBI JONES: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: So for folks listening now who are not necessarily soccer fans, how good is Kylian Mbappe? Just give us the picture. What's the story?

JONES: Best player in the world. He's been, you know, one of the major stars for that French national team as they've gone to the World Cup finals a couple of times, and all the weight has been on his shoulder for years. So wherever he goes, all eyes are on him, on the decisions that he's making and his impact of whatever team he goes to is going to be tremendous.

MARTIN: He's joining Real Madrid. It's one of the most dominant teams in all of Europe. Is it fair to compare this to say LeBron James famously taking his talents to South Beach...

JONES: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Or to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signing Shohei Ohtani?

JONES: Yes. Yes, in comparison, and probably even more so, because it would be along the lines of, let's say, LeBron going to the Lakers of when they had Shaq and Kobe Bryant already, because Real Madrid has been such a dominant force within Champions League, cementing themselves as the best team in the world. And then you bring in the best player in the world on top of it. And then how does every other team around the world compare and try to keep up?

MARTIN: I quess the question would be why. And just to sort of set the table here, let me point out two things. He's leaving his home country, where he is a legend. When there was sort of noise about him leaving two years ago - I mean, it's my understanding that the President of France even actually had to sit down with him to persuade him not to go. While the money is nothing to sneeze at, he's actually taking a pay cut to leave his old team. And he was reportedly offered $700 million to go play in Saudi Arabia. So why this move at this time?

JONES: Oh, well, let me tell you. Sometimes when you're at the level where you're making so much money, a little bit more doesn't matter to some people. And for Kylian Mbappe - I think for him, it's about cementing, you know, his legacy. He was a fan of Real Madrid as a child. So when the opportunity came, you know, it was pretty simple for him to say, hey, I can go to a team that has a legacy and then be part of my boyhood club that I looked up to.

MARTIN: So how does this affect soccer worldwide? And particularly for American soccer fans, whereas you've pointed out, and certainly you contributed to this, are really starting to embrace the game?

JONES: Oh, I think it just makes it more entertaining and more exciting. I mean, there's going to be more eyeballs on him. To be quite honest, I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Mbappe. They just won it without him. Now that he's there, there's a higher pressure level, more expectations to do it again. And hopefully, just the buzz of all of that continues to just get the general populace here in the U.S. to watch and see what is happening with Real Madrid and Kylian Mbappe.

MARTIN: That is retired soccer star Cobi Jones. He's now an analyst for Fox Sports. Cobi Jones, thank you so much for joining us.

JONES: Well, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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