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What’s next in the Kylian Mbappe-PSG-Real Madrid soap opera?

By Sampad Oct27,2023
Mind the fine print: Mbappe held up a PSG shirt with the year 2025 during his contract announcement in 2022 with club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, but there was a catch. It was a two-year contract running up to 2024 with an option for a 12-month extension, which the France captain did not trigger. | Photo credit: Getty Images

Mind the fine print: Mbappe held up a PSG shirt with the year 2025 during his contract announcement in 2022 with club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, but there was a catch. It was a two-year contract running up to 2024 with an option for a 12-month extension, which the France captain did not trigger. | Photo credit: Getty Images

French connection: Mbappe has his sights set on becoming a Ballon d’Or winner like compatriot Karim Benzema, who grew into a talismanic figure at Madrid before leaving. | Photo credit: Getty Images

French connection: Mbappe has his sights set on becoming a Ballon d’Or winner like compatriot Karim Benzema, who grew into a talismanic figure at Madrid before leaving. | Photo credit: Getty Images

Kylian Mbappe first caught Real Madrid’s attention when he was just 13. 

Zinedine Zidane, Madrid’s sporting director at the time, heard accounts of the prodigy and wanted to check if the hype was real. “My father received a call from someone at Real Madrid, inviting me to Spain for a training session,” Mbappe told The Players’ Tribune. “It was a shock because they actually told my father, ‘Zidane would like to see your son.’”

Filled with intrigue

Madrid has continued to court Mbappe — twice failing with bids to sign him — and the pursuit has turned into a saga during the superstar’s recent years at Paris Saint-Germain. Some of the world’s richest people and organisations, as well as heads of state, have added to the intrigue. 

The 24-year-old reportedly agreed a financial package with both Madrid and PSG last year before French President Emmanuel Macron intervened to urge Mbappe to stay in Paris. 

But not long after, the story emerged in Spanish sports daily Marca and several French outlets that Mbappe wanted to leave PSG as soon as possible. He reportedly felt “betrayed” by the club, disappointed that promises made to him when he signed his new contract, pertaining to the signing of top talent to target the Champions League, had not been kept.

Mbappe is PSG’s all-time leading scorer, but has never won the Champions League. He also has his sights set on becoming a Ballon d’Or winner like compatriot Karim Benzema, who grew into a talismanic figure at Madrid before moving to Saudi Arabia in the summer.

When Mbappe called PSG “a divisive team, a divisive club” in an interview with France Football magazine earlier this year, without elaborating, it was clear that things were coming to a head. 

During a summer of flux at the Parc des Princes, filled with new arrivals and Lionel Messi’s departure, it was Mbappe’s contract dispute with PSG that dominated the headlines. And months into the 2023-24 season, Mbappe’s future remains world football’s hottest topic of discussion. 

To understand why we are at this juncture, we must examine what happened over the summer. 

Mbappe’s position

The France captain told the club in June that he would not be exercising his option of extending his two-year deal by 12 months. This essentially meant he would play the season for PSG and then leave Paris on a free transfer once his contract ran out in 2024. 

PSG, which stood to lose its 180-million-euro asset for nothing, responded by insisting he would be sold in the summer. It then left him out of a preseason tour to Japan and South Korea. 

“We can’t let the best player in the world leave for free. It’s impossible,” said the Qatar-owned club’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, insisting Mbappe “must sign a new contract” to stay.

The superstar, who has won France’s Player of the Year award four times in a row and been Ligue 1’s top scorer in five straight seasons, was frozen out, reduced to training apart from the first team. PSG, which believed he had already struck an informal deal to move to Madrid next year, actively shopped for offers, attempting to force Mbappe’s hand.

The club also reportedly applied another kind of pressure — the suggestion, which came out in the French press, that Mbappe would cripple PSG financially by leaving as a free agent, putting the defending league champion in a position where it would need to sell off some of his teammates; essentially the superstar was hurting his friends’ futures.

PSG received a world record 300-million-euro bid from Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal and gave the Riyadh-based team permission to talk to Mbappe. 

Al-Hilal — one of the four clubs owned by the Public Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth vehicle, which has been snapping up prized assets as part of an aggressive, controversial drive to diversify the economy of the world’s biggest oil exporter — coveted the France captain. 

Saying no to Saudi Arabia

But he refused to meet Al-Hilal officials, L’Equipe reporting that “the captain of Les Bleus has never considered this option”.

The brinkmanship between PSG and Mbappe continued when he was dropped for the club’s season opener. But “after very constructive and positive discussions”, PSG reinstated Mbappe, who has since scored eight goals in eight Ligue 1 games. 

The tense atmosphere around the club hasn’t disappeared, however. When Mbappe does not find the back of the net, the criticism is often disproportionate and strident — after the Champions League mauling by Newcastle United, for instance. 

And while the lifting of PSG’s ‘punishment’ seemed to be the opening of a window for a new contract, Mbappe has continued to hold out for almost two months. His position is strong, his destiny is in his hands. He is also certain to receive a colossal signing fee and very lucrative wages — reports suggest Madrid has set aside 230 million euros towards this outlay — because the Spanish club would not have to pay PSG anything for his services.

“The key date will be January 2024,” Marca reported, “and it seems very clear that this time [Madrid president Florentino] Perez will not accept anything other than Mbappe’s written commitment [in a pre-contract, which a player approaching free agency can sign with a new club in January]. Therefore, there are only two … months left for the soap opera to return to the scene with the same protagonists, the player, PSG and Madrid.”

Twist in the tale?

Marca also reported that Madrid had taken Mbappe’s “signing for granted” in 2022 and was far more cautious now. Another Madrid-based sports daily, AS, reported that Mbappe is “totally determined to make his dream of playing for Real Madrid a reality.” 

But while the expectation in Spain is that the move is likely — LaLiga president Javier Tebas said last month that there was a “70 or 80%” chance of it happening — the possibility of Mbappe renewing with PSG has not been ruled out, for this has been a saga with many twists.

PSG has begun preparing for life without its No. 7, changing its transfer strategy in the summer. Criticised for assembling star-studded teams without a real backbone in the past, the French champion appears to have kept an eye out for value buys, as well as French talent. But the French media has also reported that PSG will soon make Mbappe another contract offer.

Madrid, meanwhile, has strengthened its position with the acquisition of Jude Bellingham. Not only has the young English midfielder taken Spanish football by storm and reduced some of the club’s desperation for Mbappe, his transfer is also seen as an example to convince Mbappe that the platform Madrid offers the ambitious player has few equals. 

The saga appears to be approaching its end game, but if it has taught us anything over the last few years, it is that when Madrid, PSG and Mbappe are involved, nothing is ever straightforward.

By Sampad

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