NEWCASTLE: Cameras flashed, phones lit up and the cries of “Kylian” and “Mbappe” echoed into the Tyneside night from the huddle of fans who had gathered beside the players’ entrance under the famous old Milburn Stand at St James’ Park, home to Newcastle United.
This was not a Hollywood premiere, though it certainly might have felt a bit like like one to the young Newcastle fans. No, this was just the world’s best player, arguably, leaving their ground the day before he faces their team, on their turf.
You might pardon such “small club mentality” when it has been such a long, long time since this little part of the North East of England last hosted stars such as those who will don the bleu et rouge of Les Parisiens on Wednesday night in the Champions League.
The last time Newcastle experienced this level of European football before this season was 2004. That year the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus came to town. This time, it is the turn of Paris Saint-Germain to enjoy a Geordie welcome on Wednesday night, followed in the weeks ahead by Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan.
United fans have been captivated by their visitors from France, with hundreds enjoying a Sela-sponsored drone show that lit up the gloom on Monday night, greeting the PSG players on arrival at their Quayside hotel on the banks of the River Tyne, or lining up at the entrances and exits to St James’ Park on Tuesday night in hope of catching a glimpse of the French champions, who were training on the pitch.
While the build up might have something of a “summer friendly” feel about it, things will get serious very quickly as kick-off approaches, with Mbappe set to play and looking to dent Newcastle’s Champions League hopes.
The question on everyone’s lips this week has been, “How do you solve a problem like Kylian Mbappe?” The Magpies kindly gave the media the chance to ask the man tasked with doing precisely that, Kieran Trippier.
Trippier, who was set to hand over the captain’s armband to returning Jamaal Lascelles against PSG after Sven Botman was ruled out, said he feels no fear about taking on the man many people consider the best in the business.
“I’ve played against him on his debut for Monaco, when I was at Spurs. I played against him for England on my debut, quite a few years ago,” said the 33-year-old, who was the first signing made by the Saudi Public Investment Fund following their takeover of the club.
“He’s a fantastic player. You want to play against the best in the world. It will be a great occasion for the club and a game we think we can win.
“He’s been incredible but every single game we always prepare how we can win the game and hurt the opposition. Tomorrow is no different. You always have to respect the opposition but you have to find a way to win.
“It’s a challenge I’m ready for. I’ve played against plenty of good wingers and tomorrow is no different. The Champions League is where I want to play.”
It was clear that Trippier was keen to move the conversation away from Mbappe and onto the magic surrounding Newcastle being back in the competition for the first time in two decades. The journalists had different ideas.
As he fielded yet another Mbappe-themed query, Trippier said: “This is football. This is the level you want to play at. You want to be against the best players and the best teams.
“Paris have got unbelievable players. Mbappe is one of the best in the world but they’ve got quality all over the pitch. (But) on our day, we can hurt anyone.”
Trippier went on to reveal that even his own son has not stopped talking about the player who will be looking to run his dad ragged on Wednesday.
“I was having banter with him last night,” he said. “He wants to walk out with him tomorrow night and not me. I’m not happy. I’ve told him if he gets to walk out with him, don’t look at me in the tunnel.”
Of course, one player or one duel will not determine who wins or loses this encounter. Newcastle know they need to be at their very best, unlike their opening game, when they drew a blank in a goalless draw in Milan. The big difference this time is that they will be on home turf, with the backing of 52,000 Geordies.
That point is not lost on PSG boss Luis Enrique, himself no stranger to the magic that can happen at St James’ Park. In 1997, he scored against United there but a Faustino Asprilla hat-trick gave the Magpies a 3-2 victory in their first-ever game in the Champions League proper.
“We’re coming to St James’ Park and it’s a hostile atmosphere, but hostile from a sporting point of view,” he said. “It’s a spectacular place to come and play and it will be good to see what our players are made of playing here.
“I’m envious of my players because they’re going to get to experience that firsthand out on the pitch tomorrow.”
Recalling his visit in 1997 as a player, he said: “It was a tough game — 26 years ago seems a lifetime. I was certainly a lot younger than I am now. It is true that I scored in the 3-2 but they had great players and a great atmosphere. It wasn’t easy then and it won’t be easy tomorrow.”
While Group F has been dubbed the “Group of Death,” Enrique does not consider Newcastle the weak link in danger of elimination. In fact, he said, they are the team everyone else hoped to avoid.
“They are the team in the fourth pot that no one wanted,” he said. “We know they play at a high level. They are a complete football team and they will be playing in front of extremely passionate supporters as well.
“All teams can go far in the Champions League and there’s no reason why Newcastle can’t go far. No one wanted to play them because we saw how well they played last season.”