The hottest young talent in the game is staying at Paris Saint-Germain and not joining the biggest brand in world football, Real Madrid. Kylian Mbappe’s contract with PSG expires in 40 days and for much of the past year it seemed absolute certainty that he would offer the French capital Goodbye and take a huge free agent contract in Madrid.
After all, 23-year-old Mbappe has a long and flirtatious history with Madrid. He was invited to training sessions at their academy when he was 11 and slept under a poster of Cristiano Ronaldo (the happy and productive Madrid version). In 2017, still a teenager, Mbappe chose to leave his first club, Monaco, for PSG instead of Real Madrid, who had been chasing him all summer, justifying his decision in part by the promise of playing time and progression in the French championship.
A year ago, Mbappe looked set to make a move, but this time it was PSG who blocked the deal, turning down a reported offer of nearly $200m – the second-highest on record, after Neymar ($263 million) – for his services. The prevailing wisdom was clear. The explanation for the stock – and, perhaps, the one that needs to be questioned – was this: Mbappe wanted to go, PSG couldn’t leave him as they had just added Lionel Messi to the mix and wanted to make a serious run in the Champions League. … but next summer, if he does not extend, nothing will stop him.
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Alright, nothing stops him. Except, of course, for Mbappe who opted to stay at PSG.
For the French club and its Qatari owners, it was a huge coup. You keep the gang – the once-in-a-lifetime front three of Mbappe, Messi and Neymar – together for another season (at least) and have another run in the Champions League. You show the world that there is a serious sporting commitment behind the club, that it is not just a centerpiece of Qatar’s involvement in sport and a giant public relations project that will culminate in the World Cup 2022 next November. And, of course, for Paris and France as a whole, there is also a good dose of pride: he is a son of the country, born in Paris, raised in the urban sprawl north of the City of Light, at six miles from the State of France.
Still, there will be questions. The club suffered losses of nearly 350 million euros ($390 million) in the pandemic-hit 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and doubled in a massive frenzy last summer (acquiring the contracts of Achraf Hakimi and Danilo Pereira for around $100 million combined and signing expensive free agents such as Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum and, of course, Messi).
The game’s governing body in Europe, UEFA, has introduced spending restrictions which will come into force in 2023. Some, such as LaLiga president Javier Tebas, have questioned if PSG are serious about observing them.
A day earlier, Mbappe’s mother Fayza Lamari said there would be no further meetings with clubs over her son’s future. Madrid had made their best and last offer, as had PSG, with the goal remaining.
“We have reached an agreement [in principle] with Real Madrid and PSG and the talks are over because it’s Kylian who has to choose now,” she said. Kora More. “The two offers, that of PSG and Real [Madrid] are almost identical. At Real, my son would have control of his image rights. We will wait for his decision.”
It’s rare to get such clarity from a de facto agent: Mbappe has no official representative and relies on his parents, Fayza and Wilfried, who are estranged. Many read there that he was ready to commit to PSG but that he did not want to leave on bad terms and wanted to show that the French club had done everything to keep him. Perhaps coming from an agent – who is expected to do business with both clubs in the future – it would have been. Coming from a mom, not so much.
Rodrigo Faez discusses Real Madrid’s reaction to reports that Kylian Mbappe will stay at PSG.
As for Real Madrid, it sounds like one of those big “Will they? Won’t they?” serial novels. The old trope was that you can only deny them so many times, eventually they get what they want. Mbappe might have exhausted his share of “Nope“…unless, of course, there’s more here that we don’t know. Like, maybe, his new contract at PSG contains a release clause or is just an extension so he can attempt to new to winning the Champions League with Messi at his side and joining Madrid later, but this is all speculation.
The reality is that there is a 2022-23 season to prepare for. For Real Madrid, after years of relatively moderate spending, by their standards, this was going to be the summer they recharged, with Mbappe the crown jewel of the summer spending spree. He would go on to team up with presumptive Ballon d’Or winner (and one of his childhood idols) Karim Benzema, as well as Brazilian wonderkid Vinicius Junior, in a stellar top three.
Now it’s time for plan B. Real Madrid have upped their veteran stars by winning La Liga and reaching the Champions League final against Liverpool on May 28 (which, ironically, is in Paris… I want to bet that some hoped Mbappe would be there to cheer them on?) But the team, obviously, needs fresh blood and depth. Mbappe won’t be part of it. At least not next year.
Because that’s romance. Finger rings in this sport can be removed – sometimes easily, sometimes at great expense – and, until he retires (which won’t be for a good decade or more), one has the impression that there will always be a flicker of “maybe one day they will meet again.”
After all, the best romance soap operas keep the suspense going for as long as they can.