In the end, just like a title race or World Cup final, it was a saga that ran right to the end. After courting astronomical offers from his current club, Paris Saint-Germain, and LaLiga giants Real Madrid, Kylian Mbappe made his choice to stay in the French capital and now has the chance to not only build his own legacy, but build the project around him.
On Monday, he spoke of his belief in the PSG “project” rather than the money on offer: “Leaving my country wasn’t the right thing. There’s a sentimental aspect to this, and the sporting project has changed as well.” But how did he get here? What was the critical moment in negotiations? And what’s next for both teams?
ESPN’s Julien Laurens, Rodrigo Faez and Alex Kirkland tell the story.
Mbappe gets the keys to PSG
After months of talks, negotiations, mind-changing moments, twists, meetings, huge bids, uncertainties and doubts, Mbappe waited until the end of it all and made his decision himself. On his own.
He listened to the opinions of his mum, Fayza, and his dad, Wilfried; he consulted with his lawyer, Delphine Verheyden, and even took phone calls from Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who asked him to stay in Paris. He received messages from some of the most powerful men in France, all of them saying the same thing.
In the final days leading up to his choice, his mum travelled to Qatar to meet with PSG’s hierarchy, while Mbappe spent a day in Madrid. Everything had been building to this moment starting back in January, when ESPN reported of PSG’s sudden optimism in being able to extend Mbappe’s contract. The forward told both clubs back in February that he would do it his way in terms of deadlines, timings and ways of deciding. Last week, both clubs’ final offers were on the table, and he was happy with both of them, but neither club knew what the outcome would be.
Real Madrid have tried to sign the France star since he was 11, making recruitment pushes several times (in 2011, 2016, 2017 and 2021, and again this summer) over the past 12 years. In the end, the French club needed him to stay. PSG’s Doha-based ownership couldn’t bear the thought of not having the biggest star playing for them while Qatar hosted the World Cup this summer. And while both clubs believed at some point that he would join the other side, he eventually decided to remain in Paris. It was not an easy call, but he felt it was the right one for him.
So how will the deal work? At 23, he is now the highest-paid player in the world. He received a three-year contract, a salary of €57 million net per season, various bonuses potentially worth €300 million over the three years of the deal, sources told ESPN FC. But the most important thing is not even financial.
PSG have given him the “keys” to the club. He will have — and already has had — his say on the choice of manager, sporting director and probably players on the squad, too. Mbappe wanted to be the face, the head and the heart of the PSG project, and they’ve cleared a path so he can be just that.
From here, there is so much for him to achieve at the Parc des Princes: to beat Edinson Cavani‘s record as the club’s all-time top scorer (he is already just 29 goals behind), to win PSG’s first Champions League, to be a PSG player during the 2024 Olympic Games in the French capital and many more. The new chapter starts now. — Laurens
PSG’s next steps
With Mbappe’s extension will come a lot more changes at PSG, and it didn’t take long for the effect to ripple through the club.
Mbappe didn’t want to work with Leonardo anymore, and on Saturday night, only a few hours after the official announcement of the forward’s extension, PSG told the sporting director he was sacked. To replace him, as ESPN revealed on Saturday afternoon, Mbappe put forward the name of Luis Campos.
The pair worked together back in Monaco, where Campos always protected the young prodigy. (Mbappe joined the club’s youth set-up in 2013, working his way up to the first team in 2016.) They were very close then, and still are, and the Portuguese is considered as the best talent-spotter and recruiter in European football.
Campos was also waiting for an opportunity like this; after three years as director of football in Monaco and then another three at Lille, he’s set to arrive in the French capital after a brief stint advising Celta Vigo.
Sources told ESPN that Campos would have likely joined Real Madrid — he spent a year as a scout for Real Madrid in 2012-13 — had Mbappe decided to go to the Bernabeu; instead, they are expected to be reunited in Paris.
One of the first tasks awaiting Campos will be to reshape this squad as the Ligue 1 champions desperately need money to come in. He will have to recruit cleverly, too, though Mbappe’s decision to stay could change everything for some players on PSG’s radar. Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, who is also being pursued by Real Madrid and Liverpool, is reportedly considering the Parisians’ offer more seriously than he was before. Ousmane Dembele is out of contract in Barcelona this summer, and suddenly, the possibility of joining his great friend Mbappe in Paris is a very interesting proposition. Paul Pogba is in the same category, considering the chance to form something special with his France teammates closer to home.
Mbappe wants a more balanced squad than the current one given their inability to get it done in Europe, but does that mean that he wants Neymar out? The Brazilian is certainly under pressure. In Doha, they’ve not been satisfied by his performances this season, or by his lifestyle, either. But he signed an expensive new contract of his own last May, meaning he would be tough to move out.
Then there is the question of the manager. Sources told ESPN that it’s increasingly likely Mauricio Pochettino will be sacked as PSG look to start this new chapter with someone else. Beyond that, the list is long and varied: Julen Lopetegui, Marcelo Gallardo, Christophe Galtier, Joachim Low, Antonio Conte and Thiago Motta have all been discussed, with more candidates to be added. Zinedine Zidane, who didn’t want to work with Leonardo either, is still the preferred choice, but the former Real Madrid manager will be hard to convince, especially after this battle with his own club over Mbappe.
The other main candidate at the moment is Ruben Amorim. The young Sporting Club de Portugal manager, 37, has done an incredible job in Lisbon winning the league last season and doing well in the Champions League. Luis Campos believes in him and wants him in Paris, though he has a release clause of €30m in Portugal.
The new few days will be crucial, but as part of his new deal, Mbappe will be a big part of the decision-making process. — Laurens
Real Madrid’s strategic error
Mbappe was supposed to be the foundation of Real Madrid’s new sporting project. His pursuit has dictated the club’s entire transfer strategy not just this summer, but in previous years, too. Madrid’s limited spending — Eduardo Camavinga is the only first-team player they’ve paid for since 2019 — was designed with Mbappe in mind, as their relative frugality gave Madrid the funds to make bids worth up to €200m for him last summer.
It also enabled the club to make what was, according to sources, an unprecedented offer to Mbappe this year. (Madrid balked at giving him input at the executive level but were fine with giving him 100% of his image rights and a significant salary: the club was ready to pay him around €130m as a signing bonus, plus a significant salary.)
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) May 22, 2022
Yet building an entire strategy on the belief that Mbappe would keep his word and resist PSG’s pressure now looks like a glaring strategic error, and the timing is awful, too. The only comparable signing in terms of age, profile and projection, Erling Haaland, is also beyond their reach — for now, at least — at Manchester City. Madrid were keen on Haaland, but Mbappe was always their top priority. The Norway international could have been pursued more aggressively had the club known how the Mbappe saga would end.
The truth is that with the sting of Mbappe’s rejection still fresh, even Real Madrid don’t know exactly how they’re going to react. But nobody doubts that they will react. Missing out on Mbappe is arguably more of a blow in terms of image and prestige than in footballing terms — Vinicius Junior‘s progression means a left-sided forward would not ordinarily be a priority — but headline-grabbing action will be needed to mitigate some of the damage done and seize the initiative again.
There are different approaches available to them: The club could look to land another elite player, even if they might not match Mbappe’s star power, or divide the money that had been allocated to the Mbappe deal between a handful of relatively smaller signings to strengthen multiple areas of the team. Monaco’s Tchouameni has been a midfield candidate, and the Mbappe money would help Madrid compete for his signature with Premier League rivals. (It might also be a chance to save face against PSG, who are also interested in the young midfielder.)
In attack, a string of names will be linked as Mbappe alternatives. Could Madrid revive their previous interest in Barcelona target Robert Lewandowski? How about Barca’s out-of-contract winger Dembele? Or Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah? Or Tottenham’s Harry Kane? Right now, those names are merely speculative, as the club was focused solely on landing Mbappe. Once the Champions League final with Liverpool is out of the way, Madrid will get to work on planning for life without him. — Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
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