Mbappe’s PSG contract: the night in Paris that showed he is now first among equals
Kylian Mbappe was on top of the world on Saturday night – his world.
Around 10 minutes before kick-off at the Parc des Princes, as Mbappe emerged from the main stand with Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi holding a shirt displaying the year 2025 on the back to show that Mbappe has re-signed for, the club’s social media platforms simultaneously released a short video of a Mbappe in suit and ready for business atop the Parc: there he is, a Parisian king gazing out over his promised land. Who owns whom?
These are two of many striking images of a hot Parisian night that abounds. Mbappe will not forget this evening. He won’t forget the on-field introduction, or the ensuing hat-trick, of course – he could have scored six.
Mbappe won’t forget the kick-off either. It was also a moment. As PSG and Metz prepared for the last Ligue 1 game of the season, Mbappe found himself alone in the central circle.
It may have been orchestrated, it may have been accidental, but it turned out to be the perfect setting. The star of the day was left in splendid isolation, the adoration that flowed from the stands matched only by the respect in space accorded to him by his superstar teammates. Lionel Messi and Neymar may be in the same shirts but since Saturday Kylian Mbappe has been first among PSG’s equals.
Given that money has spoken again, one can’t be overly sentimental, but still, for a 23-year-old Parisian in his hometown, this scene must have meant something and, in time, should mean more.
“I’m really happy to continue the adventure here, he said with great approval, to stay in Paris, my city.
Certainly in the stadium there was no doubting the affection for what might otherwise have been Mbappe’s awkward farewell. Ultras who have been outraged at times during this disappointing season, who have quit games recently, who have even whistled Mbappe, have denied their protests and turned up the volume. The lively pre-game music came from Queen, the Pet Shop Boys and the atmosphere was at the disco of a French holiday camp. It was both an end of term and a rapprochement for PSG. How long the unit will last is another matter, but the celebrations extended into Sunday morning.
Far from here, however, far from ‘here is Paris’, Mbappe’s renewed contract with PSG caused palpitations and consternation. In Spain, not just in Madrid, the reaction was angry. There is the threat of legal action. Mbappe’s decision has changed the world as Real understand it.
The real president Florentino Perez is not used to rejection. Presumably, he will have thought not only of the commercial benefits of having Mbappe at the Bernabeu, but of the backbone of Carlo Ancelotti’s squad next season.
Having already signed Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea, and with the brilliant 19-year-old Eduardo Camavinga developing in midfield – allied with what else Real already possess – Mbappe’s arrival would have made Madrid’s squad scary.
Also on Perez’s mind will have been the scenario next Saturday of Real winning the Champions League against Liverpool across town at the Stade de France and then leaving Paris with their greatest ever player: two trophies.
PSG, a Qatari club in a World Cup year in Qatar, could not tolerate such a loss – of face as well as talent. They don’t like Real Madrid and the feeling is mutual. PSG therefore responded to a difficult situation as the rich tend to do: by throwing money at it. It worked. Mbappé stays. Real growl.
These decisive actions are meant to settle things. But Mbappe’s decision confirmed the truism that there are more questions than answers. He may be relieved to have drawn a line in the sand of his career, but the thought process, among other rather significant details, of how he got there remains worthy of scrutiny. He will appear on national television on Sunday morning to explain his thinking.
The question of ambition must be asked. At the PSG training ground on Friday, Mbappe’s coach Mauricio Pochettino sat at a desk decorated in the club’s colors with his slogans in French and English. “Dream Bigger,” he proclaims.
It’s been the hallmark of PSG for almost a decade and that’s fair enough in this type of marketing. But the world beyond PSG will wonder if Mbappe’s decision is really dreaming bigger.
PSG have won their 10th Ligue 1 title this season, including eight in the past 10 years. It’s not organic growth.
They finished second, 15 points ahead of Marseille. It was won at a gallop, or in Messi’s case, at a walk and that game was an example of how competitive Ligue 1 was. Metz, who were relegated by the 5-0 defeat, actually started well. But once Mbappe put PSG ahead after 24 minutes, the visitors were overwhelmed with the talent, the opportunity. It was reasonable football, but it wasn’t Champions League material.
It’s next Saturday. Real came to town looking to win their 14th Champions League/European Cup. The first of these, won in 1956, was at the Parc des Princes.
Rational neutrals can place 10 domestic titles alongside 13 Champions Leagues and see where ‘dreaming bigger’ fits in.
Rational neutrals, people who disagree with Perez’s overall view on football, can always feel a tinge of disappointment that Mbappe is not seen – next season at least – in an evolving Real side. who seems able to respect the traditions of the club.
PSG would retort that by keeping Mbappe, they are the ones dreaming bigger. More than once in the past week, Pochettino has used the term ‘obsession’ to describe PSG’s attitude towards winning the Champions League, and for Mbappe, imagine being the Parisian who finally achieved it. For Paris. A banner said here: “Kylian is Paris”.
Next season’s final will be in Istanbul and we’ll see how close PSG get to Turkey. We will see if this club which has further increased the power of the players can form a team or if there will be another collapse of the Champions League in 10 months.
After the last one, in March in Madrid, Mbappe was pictured looking frustrated with his hands on his hips in front of a Bernabeu scoreboard telling the story of PSG’s defeat.
We thought then that this also reflected Mbappe’s exit from Paris. But just as he took a few Metz defenders on the wrong foot on Saturday night, he took a continent on the wrong foot.
When Mbappe once stunned us – running at 37 kilometers an hour at the last World Cup – we used one word to describe him: unreal. And so it remains. This is the world of Kylian Mbappe; he will do what he wants.
(Top photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)