Let’s be fair, it isn’t much of a sacrifice or even a hard choice to make more money than a lot of countries’ GDP and live in Paris. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and something 95 percent of the world would opt for (with the other five percent either already living there, making millions somewhere better, or understandably just not too keen on the French). Still, Kylian Mbappé’s “U-turn Heard ‘Round The World” this weekend was pretty jarring.
Mbappé-to-Madrid has been, or had been, a foregone conclusion for years. Quite simply, Ligue 1 wasn’t up to Mbappé’s standards, hasn’t been for a while now (or ever), and because Madrid have carried themselves and operated under the guiding principle that “the best players in the world must play for Madrid,” the rest of the soccer world has pretty much gone along with it. Mbappé is one of the best forwards in the world, so it just made sense he would be decked out in all white soon enough. This is just how soccer works.
Which is why PSG essentially turned over the entire club to him, not just financially, to keep him around for… well, no one’s quite sure. The contract is for three more years, but that’s not going to stop Madrid or maybe others from coming calling throughout the length of the deal, especially after more Champions League flameouts. At the moment, both PSG and Mbappé are making all the right noises about still being there in 2025, when it should be noted that he’ll still only be 26 and quite possibly not even in his prime yet. Which is a terrifying thought.
But what PSG has promised Mbappé is unprecedented. Not only is he going to get the equivalent of $60 million a year in salary, and get to keep his image rights and various bonuses that will net him over $100 million per season, but he’s getting a say-so within the club that even LeBron James would see as bordering on maniacal.
Mbappé will get a say in who will be the sporting director, and Leonardo’s last act in the role was to help ink Mbappé to this deal and then watch Mbappé boot him out of the building as soon as he put the cap back on the pen. One of Mbappé’s closest friends appears to be the favorite for the role. Mbappé will get a say in who is the manager, which is why Zinedine Zidane has been the big rumor. He’ll get a say in transfers, which is why close friend Aurélien Djani Tchouaméni is being linked despite Madrid and Liverpool having been the favorites to land him.
It’s a jaw-dropping amount of power for a player, especially one who’s 23. And while Mbappé is a global star, there is an argument that he’s hardly at a stage where he should be running one of the biggest clubs in the world from the left side of the field. Even LeBron had to wait until he had already been the best player on two championship teams in Miami before he could start calling the shots in Cleveland from the floor, though this is a bit apples and oranges. Mbappé was on the French World Cup winning team, but he wasn’t the best player there. He might have been the best player this past one at the Euros, but they imploded. He’s been on all these PSG teams that have imploded in the only competition that matters to them, the Champions League.
So do Ligue 1 titles turn Mbappé into a made man? PSG has no choice but to think so. Because no one else is going to save PSG, and get them the European Cup they see as the only route to validation. They’ve tried everything. They forever borked the transfer market thinking that Neymar was that guy. He’s been far too flighty to be so. They’ve kept button-mashing in the transfer market since in the hopes that some combination of lavishly compensated and talented players and managers will just win the thing by accident. It hasn’t worked.
But what PSG knows, and why they’ll basically be MSG for the next three years, is they’re not going to get another player like Mbappé. Given Ligue 1’s standing, given the money they’re shelling out, PSG kind of acts like the perception of MLS has had except on gamma rays. Show up, get your large check, live in Paris, win the league at a canter, get to play in the Champions League, but never really have to work all that hard. Players at Mbappé’s level and age are just not going to be interested in playing in France, at least not for the right reasons. They can coax an aging Messi, a self-interested Neymar, a crocked Sergio Ramos, but what type of player wants to spend his prime in the rain in January in Nantes? If you’re the type of player PSG is considering, you’re probably also being considered by other big clubs in better leagues with more prestige. It’s why the rumors that Ousmane Dembélé or Paul Pogba might traipse off to the Parc de Princes this summer as free agents are eye-rollingly perfect, as these are guys, while absurdly talented, aren’t exactly known for showing up when the chips are down. This is who PSG gets.
And even if you take on the PSG challenge (and salary), something can just go haywire in one half in the Champions League and then you’re being booed by your own fans and pilloried in the press. It’s easy to see why true difference makers might look at PSG and think they can do better.
Mbappé is different. Not only is he French, he’s from Paris. The club means something to him, beyond serving as a meal ticket to a lavish and comfortable lifestyle. He’s still very young, even if he is a top five player in the world. He can grab an entire tournament by the throat and win it on his own. Again, unless PSG produce this type of player on their own, or can poach one from another club in France as they did with Mbappé, this might be their only crack at having a player like him. They don’t come along very often. They come to France even less often. Mbappé deserves better and PSG knows it.
So PSG turned their unending pockets out. Mbappé will run the club. How that will play in a dressing room… we’ll find out. Maybe he’s got an eye for talent beyond Neymar’s desire to play with his buddies (which he’s never really been able to sell to the club’s front office), and maybe he doesn’t. Ask LeBron what getting to run your own team as a player can be like.
As for Madrid, you can expect them to be on the warpath, starting any minute now, by planting rumors into their version of Pravda, Marca, about how they’re going to buy both Sadio Mané and Mohammad Salah to unsettle them and Liverpool before Saturday’s Champions League final against both. Harry Kane will see his name linked. So too might Robert Lewandowski. Lautaro Martínez? No one will be spared, and hell hath no fury like a spurned Florentino Pérez.
PSG knows what they have, and they know they’ll likely never have it again. You can’t blame them for doing anything and everything to hold on. But as anyone who’s had a relationship can tell you, complete subservience is not a relationship.