Kylian Mbappe’s future has been one of the hottest topics in a manic summer transfer window and on Friday night the story went into overdrive.
Paris Saint-Germain have dropped Mbappé, their star striker and France captain, from their squad for a four-game tour to the Far East and put him up for sale. The Ligue 1 champions understand he intends to let his contract expire and then join Spanish club Real Madrid on a free transfer next summer.
This is just the latest escalation in an epic transfer saga and follows Mbappe’s decision not to extend a contract that runs until the end of next season for another year.
So how did this happen, why are PSG so upset about it, will anyone compete with Real Madrid for Mbappé’s signing and what will happen next?
The Athletic explains…
Why did PSG ban Mbappe from this pre-season tour?
Paris Saint-Germain have banned Kylian Mbappe from his pre-season tour because they reportedly no longer see him as part of their plans. Now up for sale in the current transfer window, he will not travel with his team-mates for the club’s four-game trip to Japan and South Korea today (Saturday).
Why isn’t one of the best footballers in the world part of their plans anymore, you ask? Well, that has a lot to do with a transfer saga that has been repeated over and over again for the last few summers. This time, however, things escalated a bit.
The reason PSG are leaving out the French captain and currently arguably the best footballer in the world (sorry, Lionel Messi) is that they are convinced that Mbappe has already agreed to leave them on a free transfer when his contract expires next summer and sign for Real Madrid. Understandably, there’s no way PSG want their (and the world’s best) player to go for nothing. Their point of view is that he’s either going for a (heavy) fee now, or for a fee next summer.
Mbappe signed a new two-year deal last summer that included a 12-month extension clause for the 2024/25 season. However, only Mbappe can trigger that extension, not PSG, and the deadline for that is July 31 this year.
Last month, Mbappe informed the club that he had no intention of activating this extension but publicly reiterated that he still intended to stay with them for the 2023/24 season. This set off alarm bells at club headquarters and in a three-page letter to Mbappe, written the other way earlier this month in response to the player’s own correspondence, they insisted he either have his contract renewed/extended or be sold. They set July 31 as the deadline.
The dramatic escalation on Friday came because the club said they didn’t want to be left in a state of paralysis. Without certainty about Mbappe’s future, they cannot plan ahead.
The club say there has been no communication between Mbappe’s camp and the club since his return to training, despite PSG asking for clarification by July 15. So they decided to drop him from their tour roster and put him up for sale.
Mbappe signed a two-year deal with an option for a third in 2022 (Picture: Getty)
Is this just PSG’s attempt to force him out?
This is definitely a play. But it’s about avoiding a scenario where Mbappe’s contract expires and then walks away.
As mentioned above, PSG have two positions towards Mbappe: either he leaves the club in this window for a fee, or he extends his contract and leaves the club, also for a fee, in a year. Why? Because financially it would be a serious blow if Mbappé left for nothing next season. His contract is one of the richest in world sport, so the cost is expensive in itself. So much so that potential new investors in the club see it as a liability. A free agent exit next year means the club is also missing out on a hefty transfer fee for a world-class player. According to PSG, such a result would severely limit their room for maneuver with regard to the sport’s financial fair play rules. But there is also a risk that players will be sold and there will be further personnel changes
The club also wants to show that it puts into practice what it preaches. You have long outlined the beginning of a new era for PSG, in which the player power of old would be shattered and the emphasis placed on ensuring that no one is above the club as an institution. Messi’s ban last season – due to an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia which caused him to miss training – was cited as the first major example of this and her attitude towards Mbappe is now a continuation of that.
That’s a message club president Nasser Al Khelaifi reiterated both publicly when he spoke at the launch of Luis Enrique as PSG’s new head coach two weeks ago and privately when addressing the players ahead of their first full squad training session this week.
“If anyone thinks they’re doing the club a favor by being there and thinks they’re above the club, they should leave now,” he told the squad.
Who really has the power here?
The fact that PSG have taken this unprecedented step of skipping Mbappe from his tour to Japan and South Korea underscores where the power lies. He holds the cards. His contract runs until the end of next season, with PSG giving him the power to decide whether or not to extend it until the summer of 2025.
PSG will try to regain influence over the nature of his exit.
If Mbappe has to spend his final season on the bench at Parc des Princes, it will have an impact on his legacy on the pitch. This also applies to a no-fee exit as PSG can claim that by doing so he is harming the club financially and thus affecting their ability to succeed in the future.
How big is the risk for Mbappe?
There are definitely some risks for him. One of them is that he upsets the fans and leaves the club with a tainted legacy. The PSG Ultras are not a docile bunch and might not be too kind to a player whose contract is known to be expiring. The other risk factor is that if the club maintain this tough stance, he may only have limited playing time next season. For Mbappe, his legacy is important and after all, PSG is his hometown club.
He has made no secret of his desire to hunt and break records. This also applies to PSG, where he became the all-time leading goalscorer with 212 goals last season – among a number of other milestones. Fewer minutes of play would hamper his ability to set more records, nor would it be ideal preparation for next summer’s European Championships (France are well on their way to qualifying with four out of four wins so far). But how important that is to Mbappé is a personal matter. His contractual future and the direction it takes is largely in his own hands.
From now on, Mbappe may not be as enthusiastic about the PSG fans (Picture: Getty)
Why is PSG so angry?
There could be a sense of déjà vu over Mbappé contract drama and PSG. And there’s something to it. For the past three summers, the French capital has focused on Mbappé’s future and the specter of his move to Real Madrid. But this time it feels a lot different.
On the one hand, PSG is trying to usher in a ‘new era’ and this saga detracts from that. On the other hand, the relations between the parties break down. PSG are upset as they feel Mbappe ultimately gave his ‘word’ that he wouldn’t leave on a free transfer. They feel they have supported Mbappé as a player for seven years and that leaving without paying a transfer fee (thereby potentially allowing him to pocket the monies his next club would otherwise pay to pay him) is tantamount to a betrayal.
The counter-argument, of course, is that PSG gave Mbappe the key to his future with the contract offered a year ago.
Is Real Madrid’s interest genuine?
Madrid have learned from past mistakes and especially from the 2022 soap opera. Madrid and Mbappe agreed on a deal, according to those close to the player, which would see the Frenchman receive a €130m (£112.5m / $144.7m at current exchange rates) contract bonus, €26m net salary per season and 100 per cent of his image rights.
Because of this, Madrid always stayed in the background, away from the limelight. The official position is that there is no interest in Mbappe from the Bernabeu, but the reality is very different.
When asked about Mbappe earlier this week, Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said: “I’ve never talked about players who aren’t at Real Madrid. I can talk about (Jude signings) Bellingham, Arda Guler, Fran Garcia, Brahim (Diaz) who came back from Milan very well… Talking about players who aren’t here doesn’t seem right to me.”
But as The Athletic revealed in January, Madrid have never cut ties with Mbappe’s entourage. The plan was and is that if he became available they would be able to do something.
However, there are still many doubts at Madrid – they do not fully trust Mbappe given what has happened in the past few windows, nor does PSG, who they currently see as their main institutional rivals. Madrid don’t think it’s impossible that Mbappé could extend his contract and see the possible rise of his younger brother and teammate Ethan, a 16-year-old midfielder, under Luis Enrique as a step in that direction.
Madrid always believed that there would eventually be a deterioration in the relationship between PSG and Mbappe. They always felt that the French club gave him more power than any single player should have. In fact, one phrase kept repeating itself in Madrid’s offices: “To play here one day, Mbappe would have to become a footballer again” – in terms of the money and influence he could expect at the Bernabeu.
Mbappe scored as PSG lost 3-1 at Real Madrid in 2022 (Picture: Getty)
Is there another place where Mbappe could end up?
Well, anyone arriving with a significant cash offer this summer could become relevant very quickly, but it would need to make Mbappe the highest-paid player in European football, which he already is at PSG, and likely also factor in the substantial signing bonuses he would be entitled to if he were to join a club as a free agent next summer.
Liverpool have been linked with Mbappe in the past but there is no indication they can afford the package required. As we’ve seen throughout the summer, the Saudi Pro League is ready to shell out massive sums to entice players to move there and PSG had initial interest from a Saudi team in a deal with Mbappe.
However, at least at this stage, PSG recognize that there is a limiting negotiating factor in the form of Madrid as Mbappe has shown no inclination whatsoever to move elsewhere than the Spanish capital. PSG also expect Mbappe to receive bonuses worth up to €160m if he expires and joins Madrid next summer.
One exceptional option, even touted on Friday night, included the possibility that Saudi officials would consider a one-year deal (either a hefty-fee loan or a year-long transfer) that would allow Mbappe an exit from PSG this season, allow PSG to win some money back and then allow the player to cash in as a free agent when he joins Madrid in the summer of 2024, which would essentially allow him to triple that collect. However, there is currently no evidence that the 24-year-old wants to leave European football.
How much is Mbappe likely to cost this summer?
A lot of that will depend on whether Mbappé can be persuaded by PSG to move somewhere other than Real Madrid, as there might then be more flexibility or possibly some sort of real bidding war. As of today, while there is initial interest from Saudi Arabia, there is no real competitive pressure as the player has merely expressed that he wants to move to the Bernabeu. However, what could happen is that Mbappe’s experience at PSG becomes so exhausting and unbearable in the coming weeks that he puts pressure on Madrid to come to the table this summer, which would then allow PSG to demand a transfer fee for the player.
PSG aren’t demanding all of their money back for Mbappe but would like to receive more than €100m for a player widely regarded as the best in Europe, if not the world.
Their very public admonishment of Mbappé seems to be aimed at two things: first, convincing him to do it for a full year in the run-up to Euro 2024 (the club are also prepared to bench him for the start of the season next month) would not be very appealing, while his reputation in France would also be eroded ahead of next summer’s Paris Olympics, which he is expected to attend; and second, to try to attract potential bidders to rival Madrid.
If Mbappe decides he can’t handle a full year of that in Paris, he could ask Madrid to come to the table early and if for some reason the Spaniards are slow or reluctant to do so, that could hypothetically open the market for other suitors. Meanwhile, Madrid will know that PSG’s hand is getting weaker as the September 1 end of that window approaches.
So what happens next?
The next key date in this saga is July 31st – a Monday in the week. Then the extension clause in Mbappe’s current contract expires. Should it not come to that, he would leave PSG next summer without a fee.
The club have limited options at this stage other than tightening the bolts and increasing the pressure on Mbappe. One of their biggest actions was to prevent Mbappé from taking part in this tour. The next option available to them would be an extension by benching him.
Should the July 31 deadline pass without a solution, the next key date is Sunday August 13 – when PSG take on Lorient to open the new Ligue 1 campaign.
In the meantime, what will matter most is how Mbappe and his entourage react.
Even doing nothing or saying nothing could have a big impact.
(Additional Reporting: Mario Cortegana)
(Top Photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)